The commissions of both Wetzel and Tyler counties agreed to contribute $30,000 each to the first year of a Lee Day Report Center in New Martinsville that will serve both counties.
Fred McDonald, director of the Lee Day Report Center and executive director of the Northern Panhandle Community Criminal Justice Board, appeared before the commissions Tuesday to request the participation and talk about the new extension of the court system.
"Today I can tell you we got some funding," reported McDonald. The program got enough support through the West Virginia Supreme Court's drug court program to make the local center a reality.
Senate Bill 371 requires that all circuits of the court have a drug court by July 2015. While the Second District was already in compliance thanks to a drug court in Marshall County since 2005, it was too far removed to be of much use to the two more southern counties in the district.
That center has handled a few cases from Wetzel and Tyler counties, but Judge David W. Hummel said those attendees "were extremely motivated to do that."
However, regardless of location, motivation is needed for success. When presenting this idea to the Wetzel County Commission in February, Judge Hummel said the participants in the program must want to change. "Drug court's not for everyone," he said, adding, "It has a good success rate. We have some people, this (past) Christmas is the first Christmas they remember."
The only down side to the program is that attendees must be in the justice system to attend-they must have reached the point in their addiction that they have gotten into criminal trouble. Unfortunately many have reached that point.
"Some of these defendants are serving life sentences-one year at a time," said Hummel.
Even charges like forgery and uttering can prompt sentencing to the day report center if drug use prompted the need for the illegally obtained money. "It doesn't have to be a drug offense for drug court," explained Hummel.
Last year in Wetzel County there were 135 felonies. Prosecutor Timothy Haught said probably at least half of them had something to do with drugs. "There is certainly a need for this in Wetzel County," said Haught. "I'm very optimistic about it."
McDonald did explain that no one convicted of a violent crime, sexual offenses, or crimes against children are sentenced to the drug court.
As far as Haught is concerned he would not recommend a person with a second felony offense be sent to drug court. "It would be for what I consider a low-level offense," said Haught. "I don't think drug court is for drug dealers.".
McDonald agreed. He has had dealers in the drug court before and outside of the program they have tried to get people to buy.
"There's a carrot and a big stick," described Haught. "There's a big stick hanging over their head to complete the program." He specifically talked about a deal that is currently in the works. If the defendant doesn't successfully complete the program, the 22-year-old will be facing two to 20 years in the penitentiary.
Attendees are drug tested three to five times per week. They must report daily or they will be picked up by the authorities. They must complete community service. Judge Hummel only lets them get four hours behind on community service, said McDonald. "You hit hour number five, you spend the weekend in jail."
"What they have in place is a very rigorous program," explained Haught. "The people who want the help, will get the help. I would suspect I know a few people who would rather go to jail than go to drug court."
Those who are just going there to try to get a lighter sentence will "wash out pretty quick" said McDonald.
According to McDonald the general age range for drug court is 18-25. "That fits pretty well with the 29 indictments I got out of The Villas," said Haught. The drug court will not treat juveniles.
At first McDonald thought he would get funding for the local program through the Community Corrections Fund. However, the most the new program would have received was $20,000 because of a funding cap, given the Marshall County program receives $580,000 from that source. Thankfully they were able to get the needed funding through the Supreme Court's Drug Court Program.
"They had no problem with our budget at all, so whatever we asked for, we received," said McDonald, who noted he based the estimated budget on costs of the Hancock County Day Report Center.
The Supreme Court appropriation was for about $227,000. The county contributions will be used for items such as rent, utilities, office equipment, a van, travel, training, and fuel. The van will be used to pick up attendees who live outside of New Martinsville who don't have transportation. Pick up points will be established.
While they have yet to sign a lease, McDonald said he anticipates the day report center will be in the basement of the senior center on Paducah Drive in New Martinsville; this is the area previously occupied by Head Start. He is expecting to have the program operating by the end of September or beginning of October.
McDonald said part of the program's financial success will be if they have attendees for which to bill the state. Haught and Hummel have indicted there are already seven or eight sentenced defendants waiting for the center to open. "When they've been giving probation, they've been making it conditional upon completing drug court once it is in place," said Haught. They did that in anticipation of getting the grant.
"We're going to have people and we're going to have some more people coming up," added Haught. "Judge Hummel is fully behind the program."
Once a defendant is sentenced to drug court on felony charges, the circuit clerk sends the appropriate paperwork to the Department of Corrections and they are taken off of the county's regional jail bill. "That minimizes any extra expense for the county," said Haught, who added that Wetzel County Circuit Clerk Sharon Dulaney is good about doing the needed paperwork as quickly as the court allows.
"I think it's pretty obvious Wetzel and Tyler counties need some sort of drug court, rehabilitation for these people," said Commission President Don Mason.
The counties' contributions will be billed quarterly. McDonald said if they near the end of the fiscal year and their portion isn't needed, they won't bill for the last quarter.
McDonald said the state's funding is on a yearly basis, but he does not anticipate losing funding. "The Supreme Court has fully committed to drug court," he said.