Four more West Virginia counties are poised to set up a juvenile drug court program, joining 12 counties with programs already in place. A juvenile drug court program is best described on the West Virginia Judiciary website as “a cooperative effort of the juvenile justice, social service, law enforcement, and education systems in the state.” The goal is to prevent juvenile recidivism — or situations where a reformed juvenile offender lapses and gets arrested again. The drug court diverts non-violent youths away from the usual court process and gives them individualized treatment.
Drug court programs could make a big difference for the juvenile offender population in this state. Controlled-substance violations are among the most frequent committed by youths. Around 6,500 youths are under a court-ordered diversion program or supervision by a probation officer every day. Drug program operators try to get at-risk youths into the program as soon as possible, before they have been officially charged with an offense. Those who work for the drug court programs affirm that they bring positive results. One program director spoke of participants who started out receiving Ds and Fs and never thought that they would finish high school. Instead, thanks to the program, they raised their grades significantly to Bs and Cs and received their diplomas. Another mentioned the cost benefits of having the program in place: the total cost of the program is $6,400, compared to $200 to $500 a day if the youth is given residential placement. The youth receives supervision while remaining in a familiar home and school environment.
Drug court locations are not random, but are instead determined by a data-driven process. West Virginia Supreme Court officials look at information such as filings for substance abuse and juvenile arrests. Based on this information, they then decide which counties would be the best locations for a juvenile court. Supreme Court officials recently designated Raleigh County as one that could support a full program. Jefferson County, Greenbrier County, and Harrison County are also looking to develop programs. Funding for the courts comes by way of legislative funds, grants, and miscellaneous funding received by the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals Administrative Office.
The long-term success of the juvenile drug program remains an open question. However, the oldest court in Cabell County has been in operation since 1999 and the program has only expanded since then. We at the Wolfe Law Firm fully support the counties’ efforts to keep youths from becoming repeat offenders. No West Virginia criminal defense attorney wants to defend juvenile suspects during criminal trials when these youths could instead receive the chance to start on the right path. West Virginia has long had a troubled history with drug use and production, especially meth production. For far too many years, the national answer to any crime, even nonviolent ones, was to throw offenders in jail. By law, someone caught possessing or producing meth in West Virginia could be sentenced to 15 years in prison. It is not a productive use of this state’s resources, not when the offender is an adult and especially not when the offender is young.