WV Judges: Drug court making a difference
From the Bluefield Daily Telegraph:
PRINCETON — While the scourge of illegal drug abuse continues to clog the local judicial system, officials also are seeing success stories emerge from Mercer County’s Drug Court program.
“You asked whether we are winning the drug war, I don’t know if we are winning, but by gosh we are fighting it,” Circuit Court Judge Omar J. Aboulhosn told members of the Daily Telegraph’s editorial board last week. Aboulhosn was joined by Circuit Court Judge William J. Sadler and Circuit Court Judge Derek C. Swope.
“We are the Allies, and it is like it is 1942,” Swope said in a unique analogy of the drug war. “I think the war is going to be won, but it needs to be won around the world.”
Aboulhosn said the drug problem has touched many facets of society, including families and children, and rich and poor.
Sadler said the county’s drug court was opened in January 2006, and has since made a positive difference in the lives of several who have successfully graduated from the program.
“The drug court and the day report center I think are a benefit to the community, and they have been a success,” Sadler said.
Sadler said the drug court provides the judicial system an opportunity to help non-violent offenders who are not believed to be a danger to their community. The earliest an individual can normally graduate from the drug court program is 18 months, although most take much longer. Those who are accepted must complete a stringent rehabilitation program. Many will return to jail after failing the program.
“The drug court is set up so that the prosecuting attorney basically has veto power over who gets in,” Sadler said. “Recommendations are typically made by defense attorneys. The prosecutor reviews it, and if he OKs it, the whole assessment process begins with the coordinator.”
“If you aren’t ready to work on your drug addiction, you aren’t going to get past the gatekeeper,” Aboulhosn said of the early screening process for possible entry into the drug court program.
Swope said another drug court graduation will be held Monday.
“It’s not perfect,” Swope said. “We’ve had implosions. We’ve had 23 people graduate and our program has had five implosions.”
Swope estimated the success rate of the local drug court at about 78 percent.
Sadler said those who graduate from the drug court program are individuals who have overcome their addiction, and are hoping to avoid a return to the court system.