Should W.Va. expand teen drug court statewide?

It may come as a surprise to some people that West Virginia is among the top 10 states when it comes to the number of individuals between 18 and 25 who are dealing with illicit drug dependence. That’s why the push now underway to add more drug courts for juveniles is so critical.

Lora Maynard, who is deputy director for drug courts in the state’s Division of Probation Services, was in Beckley last week trying to convince Raleigh County officials to consider establishing a juvenile drug court in Beckley. Currently there are 16 juvenile drug courts already operating in the state. But they only cover 20 of the state’s 55 counties.

From 2007 to 2012, there were 201 graduates from the established treatment program provided for these cases of early addiction among youngsters ages 10 to 17. That alone should encourage the spread of this program to every county in the state.

These courts are a cooperative effort between the state’s judicial system, various social service agencies, law enforcement officials, educational institutions and parents to place nonviolent youth offenders into treatment programs rather than behind bars. Not only do these programs focus on treatment and accountability rather than punishment but they have proven to be cost effective.

Maynard told law enforcement officers and judicial representatives at the Beckley meeting just how cost effective it is. She said during an eight-month period, the supervision and treatment for a juvenile enrolled in this program costs $6,403. In contrast, if the youngster was treated at Olympia Center in Kingwood, the cost would be $44,000. And the cost for treatment at Huntington’s River Park Hospital would be $99,000.

The goal of this approach is to see the early signs of addiction in youngsters who are 10 to 17 and halt that behavior as quickly as possible. The program typically runs for 32 weeks — sometimes even longer depending on the individual — and is monitored by a drug court probation officer.During this period, the youngster is required to participate in random and frequent drug testing and must also attend counseling sessions with a parent or guardian. Raleigh County Prosecuting Attorney Kristen Keller said it is so “different from adult drug court. So many kids come from environments where addiction is the norm. We see so many 10- to 12-year-olds who are already substance dependent.”

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