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Benjamin: Drug courts reduce costs, recidivism

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Many West Virginians struggle with drug abuse and addiction, with several winding their way through the court system.

That's why West Virginia Supreme Court Chief Justice Brent Benjamin said the state's drug court program could provide a better way to treat some of these people without going through the expense and high recidivism rates of incarceration.

Benjamin delivered the 2013 report to members of the joint standing committee on the judiciary, focusing on West Virginia's adult and juvenile drug courts.

In West Virginia, there are 20 adult drug courts covering 30 counties and 16 juvenile drug courts covering 20 counties.

The report states that from the adult drug court's inception in 2003 to 2012, there have been 420 participants who have graduated, making the graduation rate 52.23 percent.

For juveniles, from 2007-2012, there were 201 successful graduates, making the graduation rate 62 percent.

As for costs, the report states the annual cost per adult participant is about $7,100 compared to incarceration, which would be $18,250 in jail or $24,000 in prison.

For an eight-month period in juvenile drug courts, the cost per juvenile is about $6,403, compared to $96,000 for eight months in detention in a juvenile facility or $44,000 to $99,000 in a residential treatment facility for six months.

As for recidivism, the rate for juvenile drug court graduates was 14.4 percent from 2007-2011, compared to 51.5 percent for traditional juvenile justice, the report states.

For adult graduates from 2011-2012, that rate was 9.4 percent, compared to 30.04 percent for incarcerated offenders.

Judicial officials can recommend people to drug courts.

The program, which has a minimum length of one year, includes intensive supervision, frequent random and observed drug testing, meetings between participants and their probation officers and counseling sessions.

Juvenile drug courts, meanwhile, have the goal of early intervention targeting 10- to 17-year-olds who are non-violent misdemeanor or felony offenders.

"These are our sons and daughters, moms and dads, our neighbors and our friends. As much as it sometimes is, it's hard to face the problem which confronts us all here in West Virginia."

Benjamin said it allows people the opportunity to turn their lives around and avoid prison time.

"I had the opportunity to read a letter from a recent graduate," Benjamin recalled. "He thanked the team for the help given to him. And I stuck on these words. I thought they were very important. He said thank you — thank you for not giving up on me. This program is about changing lives, and it's also about creating responsibility."