Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

May 23, 2013

Juvenile drug court

Welcomed help for at-risk youth

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— — When it comes to fighting the crippling chains of drug addiction, it is critical to reach those who are in danger of falling down the deadly path of drug abuse at an early age. The ultimate goal is to steer young people away from the dangers of prescription narcotics abuse before they grow up and become adult offenders.

That’s why the new McDowell County Juvenile Drug Court, which celebrated its grand opening Monday, is so important to the region. It is no secret that McDowell County is dealing with a pretty serious prescription drug abuse problem. Adding to the dilemma is the fact that several methamphetamine labs also have been located in the county in recent weeks. When adults abuse narcotics, their children also are exposed to this irresponsible and criminal behavior. And this can often lead to a painful cycle of abuse and addiction that is passed on from parent to child.

The juvenile drug court has been accepting applications since November 2012. Eight juveniles are now participating in the program. It is the newest juvenile drug court in West Virginia, according to Michael Lacy, director of Probation Services for the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. The state supreme court established the juvenile drug court in 1999 at Cabell County.

The juvenile drug court takes young people from ages 12 to 18, according to Family Court Judge Lisa Clark. Entities including circuit court, the McDowell County Board of Education, the state Department of Health and Human Resources, and the county probation office can refer juveniles to the program. Participants stay in juvenile drug court for eight months or longer. The goal is to steer young people away from the drug culture before they become offenders who must then be handled by the adult court system.

Judges and others officials who work in juvenile drug court are volunteers, according to Clark. They do not receive extra pay for their work.

Chief Justice Brent Benjamin of the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia, who was in McDowell County Monday to help participate in the grand opening celebration for the juvenile drug court, correctly notes that the juvenile drug court program is a successful expansion of the state’s adult offender drug courts.

Benjamin recalled one woman who graduated from Mercer County’s drug court. She showed him her new baby and said the child had been born drug free thanks to the program. “That made up my mind right there and then. I decided we needed new drug courts as fast as possible,” Benjamin said.

The juvenile drug court is a welcomed addition to McDowell County, and it should go a long way toward helping to steer young people away from the deadly dangers of drug addiction. We join the state Supreme Court of Appeals in applauding all involved in helping to get this new drug court up and running in Welch.