Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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February 17, 2014

Mercer to treat criminals for substance abuse

PRINCETON — Mercer County is among 10 localities to be included in a new select program that will offer community-based substance abuse treatment to people on probation, parole and supervised release.

Phase 1 of the pilot program seeks to engage behavioral health treatment providers in Mercer, Raleigh, Cabell, Fayette, Logan, Marshall, Monongalia, Wirt and Wood counties, according to a press release from the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety. Providers in the 10 counties will expand their effective substance abuse treatment services to offenders in the communities.

Delegate John Shott, R-Mercer, said, the program is a “major step” in the right direction.

“Basically it is intended to provide courts and judges with additional options to help treat people that need help,” Shott said.

The goal of the program is to extend the community-based approach statewide over time. Among its numerous provisions, Justice Reinvestment recommended increasing rehabilitation services for offenders who show a high risk for re-offending and a need for substance abuse treatment, including for those with co-occurring disorders.

“This will be a coordinated effort between the court system and other programs that work with substance abuse,” Shott said.

Judy Akers, director of Southern Highlands, said, “We will be applying for the program funding. We want to do all the substance abuse treatment that we can.”

“Under Gov. Tomblin’s leadership, Justice Reinvestment puts West Virginia on a path to address one of the biggest issues driving prison growth — substance abuse,” Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety Cabinet Secretary Joseph Thornton said in the news release. “Simply locking offenders up without offering effective rehabilitation services during incarceration, or in the community upon release, simply ignores the problem.

“The programs offered in prisons are effective, but the lack of community-based services for offenders represents a significant gap,” Thornton continued. “The establishment of community-based treatment opportunities promises to close that gap and offers offenders a better chance at being successful, law-abiding and productive members of society.”

Through its Division of Justice and Community Services, the department has developed the pilot program together with the Bureau for Behavioral Health and Health Facilities at the Department of Health and Human Resources, according to department statement.

“The increased collaboration between providers and community corrections professionals will expand effective community based services and reduce recidivism among the offender population,” DHHR Cabinet Secretary Karen Bowling said. “This collaborative approach to services development and coordination forges a long overdue partnership and avoids service system duplication.”

Community-based substance abuse services for offenders are among several provisions in the law that reflect data-driven, consensus-based policy options developed during a recent study of West Virginia’s criminal justice system. A group of state legislators and key leaders worked closely with the Justice Center of the nonpartisan Center for State Governments as part of that comprehensive review.

— Contact Anne Elgin at aelgin@bdtonline.com

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