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Putnam marks drug court anniversary

Putnam County will mark the success of its juvenile drug court program in a celebration marking its two-year anniversary.

Circuit Court Judge Phillip M. Stowers, who oversees the program, will highlight the program's 26 graduates and accept a donation from the Putnam County Bar Association.

Stowers said not all of those enrolled in drug court finish, but for those who do the success can be far-reaching.

"Twenty graduates will not change the world," he said. "But it will change the world for 20 kids and 20 families for generations.

"I believe what we are really changing is something we could never do in our regular court process," said Stowers. "We are changing families."

His sentiments were echoed this week by West Virginia Supreme Court Chief Justice Brent Benjamin who spoke to a joint meeting of the House and Senate judiciary this week, commending the state's drug court programs.

Benjamin said drug courts save the state money that might be spent on incarceration and rehabilitation facilities.

Stowers said, "I think it's a good use of money here in Putnam County. It saves state taxpayers money. And we're looking toward an adult drug court, and that would save the county incarceration costs."

Participants in juvenile drug court agree to come to meetings and court appearances that involve their parents or their guardian. They appear before the judge weekly at first, see counselors, do community service, continue their high school education, work toward promotions and incentives and undergo regular drug testing.

They do book reports and community service, but if they can also lose privileges like cellphones and video games.

"I have a cabinet full of them," Stowers said. "We can always take away their freedom, but let's just bother them for awhile.

"The program takes nine months to a year and a half," Stowers said. "It is voluntary, but they are under charges. They have to do what's harder than juvenile probation or a stint at juvenile corrections."

Juvenile detention, while still necessary for many delinquent youths, is an experience than can also alter their lives forever.

"They are never the same after than," he said. "Once you've done the worst thing you can to them, you've lost them. There's no more you can do. You can't undo that juvenile detention."

Instead, drug court celebrates their small victories and rewards them with small gifts - the "carrot and the stick approach" according to Stowers.

Some of Stowers' graduates have gone into the military or on to college.

He estimates the program has saved the state $2 million on inpatient drug treatment costs.

"The moment I sign an order to put a kid at Riverpark or another drug rehab facility, I commit the state to spending $50,000 to $60,000," he said. Juvenile drug court costs about $5,000 per participant.

Thursday's ceremony will take place at 4 p.m. in Stowers' courtroom. During the ceremony, the Putnam Bar Association will donate $500 to the program.

Contact writer Cheryl Caswell at cherylc@dailymail.com or 304-348-4832.

 


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