By Matt Young, West Virginia Press Association
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Presentations regarding Drug Court and Home Confinement were among the Business before the West Virginia Legislature’s Oversight Committee on Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority during the final day of May Interim Sessions on Tuesday.
First to present was the honorable Gregory Howard, judge of West Virginia’s Sixth Circuit Court, who spoke about the state’s Adult Drug Court program.
Howard began his presentation by telling committee members, “I had the honor of serving in the House (of Delegates) from 2002 to 2006, so I know what you folks got through – it’s a lot,” before providing a brief overview of the Drug Court program.
“This is one tool you have in your tool box to try to get people out of incarceration, and into the court system in a different avenue to reduce the number of people who are actually incarcerated,” Howard said. “The First Drug Court in West Virginia was here in Cabell County. Since then, they’ve blossomed out all over the state. We have Juvenile Drug Courts all over the state, and the Adult Drug Courts.”
According to Howard, Adult Drug Court is an “intense supervision program,” that differs from traditional probation.
“Make no mistake about it – these are people who would be headed to prison,” Howard noted. “By agreement of the prosecutor, myself, the defense attorney, and the rest of our team, we decide to pull that person from a track headed to prison, and put them into Drug Court.”
Howard further explained that violent offenders are ineligible for Drug Court, adding, “But if you have a substance abuse problem and you’re not violent, it seems to me that the best course of action, rather than housing these people in a jail cell for a year or two and then letting them back out where they’re going to go right back to substance abuse, is to seriously work on the root cause of the problem. Then try to rehabilitate them and get them back out into society.”
As stated on courtswv.gov, “An adult drug court is a specially designed court program. The purpose is to achieve a reduction in recidivism and substance abuse among offenders and to increase the likelihood of successful rehabilitation through early, continuous, and intense treatment; mandatory periodic drug testing; community supervision; appropriate sanctions and incentives; and other rehabilitation services, all of which is supervised by a judicial officer.”
“I can’t emphasize enough how powerful Drug Court is, and how effective it is” Howard added. “I think it is really our most important tool with battling addiction.”
At the conclusion of Howard’s presentation, Del. John Paul Hott, R-Grant, said, “I’ve had the privilege of attending some Drug Court graduations, and I’ll tell you it’s powerful. It’s a very emotional experience. To say that it was an intense process would be an understatement.”
“To your knowledge, how many active Drug Courts are in West Virginia?” Hott asked, to which Howard replied, “I think it’s approximately 30.”
Next before the committee was Cabell County Prosecuting Attorney Sean Hammers, who spoke to the use of home confinement and day reporting centers as alternatives to traditional incarceration.
“Last year, in Cabell County, we had 828 felony arrestees,” Hammers began. “We had 5,703 misdemeanor arrestees. When we look at pre-conviction and the bond can’t be made, our options are probation under bond supervision, and home confinement. In out alternatives post-conviction, home confinement makes the most sense.”
Hammers explained that Cabell County’s home confinement office employs 10 full time, and two part time certified officers. Hammer further stated that, unlike any other home confinement office in the state, Cabell County’s office is manned 24 hours a day, seven days per week.
“If anybody escapes, leaves their exclusion zone or leaves their home, we know about it,” Hammer noted.
According to Hammer, candidates for home confinement must be non-violent, and have no active warrants from other jurisdictions. Hammer added that convictions can range from shoplifting, to drug-related offenses.
“In addition to monitoring of the inmates who are on home confinement, the inmates are required to do community service,” Hammer said. Inmates are also required to maintain payment schedules for fines and court costs.
With regard to offenders sentenced to day reporting sentences, Hammer said that most have been convicted of misdemeanors. Day reporting centers also serve as parole and probation centers.
“I was surprised to learn that Family Court refers a lot of people to the day reporting center because they do drug testing,” Hammer noted.
Once Hammer’s presentation was complete, Del Joey Garcia, D-Marion, asked, “When does home confinement present itself as an option [during the court process]?”
“Offenders don’t get on home confinement until they’re approved,” Hammer replied, after explaining that the initial conversation in a felony case occurs between the prosecutor and defense attorney. “As a prosecutor, I can agree to it, but that only starts the process. The home confinement office has to do a home check, and we have to make sure they don’t have a violent past. We don’t want home confinement officers going out to a home visit to find some violent offender.”
“As far as misdemeanor cases, it can come up at their first hearing,” Hammer added.
The Legislative Oversight Committee on Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority will meet next during the August Interim Legislative Session.