POINT PLEASANT — An innovative, and cost effective, way of addressing the drug problem in Mason County has arrived.
On Friday, an opening ceremony for Mason County Adult Drug Court was held in the circuit court courtroom with keynote speaker the Honorable Brent D. Benjamin, chief justice for the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.
Benjamin has championed the state’s drug court program which will be found in every county in the state by July 1, 2016. However, as of now, Mason County is one of fewer than 10 West Virginia counties to embrace the specialty court.
Benjamin, who was introduced by Prosecuting Attorney Craig Tatterson, said he felt the biggest misconception about drug courts are “they coddle criminals.” Benjamin said that was completely not true. He explained what the individual who is accepted into drug court goes through is tougher than what they face in a cell. He also said the other big misconception is it is open to hardcore, violent criminals and drug dealers — it is not. Drug courts are for a limited group, and individuals can only be accepted into the program with the permission from the Drug Court Judge, in this case Judge David W. Nibert and the prosecutor.
Nibert will be taking on extra duties presiding over Mason County Drug Court without any extra pay. Nibert will be working with Christopher Johnson, adult drug court probation officer, along with Johnson’s team of attorneys, both from Tatterson’s office and from the private sector, as well as professionals in the Mason County Probation Department and Day Report program.
The Drug Court program is funded through the state of West Virginia, and the county’s investment includes providing a furnished room for the court on the first floor. However, the county could soon see a return on that minimal investment.
According to Benjamin, those who go through the drug court program are only nine percent likely to re-offend as opposed to the 85 percent who don’t go through the program. This results in a $17.5 million savings to taxpayers each year in regard to not having to pay to incarcerate individuals. It costs $26,000 per year to house a person in prison in West Virginia.
Mike Lacy, director of the division of probation services, also spoke Friday, saying those in the drug court program will appear before a judge every week, be drug tested twice a week or more, will work, will be put in jail as a sanction for violating the program which “holds addicts accountable.”
Benjamin, who is known to attend graduations for drug court, said he attended one where a man was so overwhelmed all he could say was “thank you for not giving up on me.” Benjamin said, to him, that’s what drug court is about, not giving up on human beings.
Judge Nibert opened and closed the event and in his closing remarks said the people in the courtroom that day were not naive and knew the new drug court would have failures, but it would also have successes. Nibert said one person has already been accepted into Mason County Drug Court with 25 having expressed an interest. The program is equipped to accept around 20 at any given time, and each participant must be in the program a minimum of one year.