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Putnam considers reserving beds in drug treatment center for recovering residents

By Kara Moore

WINFIELD, W.Va. -- Drug offenders in Putnam County could end up in treatment instead of jail -- and at a lower daily cost to the county.

The Putnam County Commission unanimously approved a proposal from Prosecutor Mark Sorsaia and County Manager Brian Donat to reserve two beds at The Healing Place in Huntington for Putnam County residents who participate in drug court.

The beds cost $32.50 per day, or $11,800 per year per bed for a total financial commitment of about $23,600 from the county.

The county's regional jail bill has soared from $1.1 million several years ago to an estimated $1.7 million this year at a daily rate of $48 per inmate.

"It's obvious to me that this phenomenon with the jail bill is all driven by addiction," Sorsaia said. "We're struggling with it every day."

Sorsaia praised the commission and county for being proactive in dealing with drug issues through community corrections and drug courts for both juveniles and adults.

"We just are desperately in need of more in-patient drug treatment," Sorsaia said.

Sorsaia told the commission that he and Donat have made several visits to The Healing Place over the last year to see if it could be part of the diversion program for drug offenders in Putnam County.

"I cannot represent to the county commission that placing two individuals at The Healing Place is going to have a significant impact on our jail bill," Sorsaia said in a letter to commissioners.

"I can represent to the commission that common sense dictates that placing one person in The Healing Center ... and providing them with drug treatment would greatly enhance their future prospects of not re-offending and ultimate lending up as a Putnam County inmate at a regional jail."

Sorsaia told commissioners that he has met with one local church about privately sponsoring additional beds for Putnam County residents and that he plans to meet with more churches and other nonprofit groups to increase the number of reserved beds.

The Healing Center is a nonprofit in-patient treatment facility that currently serves men only. The program takes six to nine months to complete.

Patients don't pay, and the facility doesn't accept insurance, though Executive Director Scott Adkins said they are trying to get some funding from Medicaid.

The Healing Center is modeled after a state-run drug treatment program in Kentucky.

"I might try to convince some people at the statehouse for us to take a trip to Kentucky and maybe we can help West Virginia on the state level look at this idea," Sorsaia said.

All the commissioners expressed their support for the initiative.

"It's truly needed, not just for Putnam County, but for the entire state," Commissioner Steve Andes said.

But Andes said that offenders should have a responsibility to repay the government for jail or rehabilitation bills.

"I don't have a problem with the program," Andes said. "I'm all for it right now."

Commission President Joe Hanyes also voiced his support of the proposal and offered to go with Sorsaia to seek private sponsorship for additional reserved beds.

In other news, the commission heard from Summer Wyatt of the Humane Society and Terry Dunne of the Putnam County Farm Bureau about a need for standardized protocols for livestock neglect and abuse intervention.

Dunne said a recent case of equine abuse took too long to resolve, and better protocols and training could help future cases resolve more quickly.

The issue was not on the commission's agenda, so it couldn't take action at Tuesday's meeting. Haynes offered to put it on a future agenda, and Donat said he would meet with Wyatt, Dunne and Farm Bureau member Noah Perry to organize training and empower an existing county board meant to deal with livestock abuse and neglect.

Haynes also suggested that some space could be developed at the new animal shelter to serve as a temporary holding facility for abused or neglected livestock, instead of relying on volunteers to house the animals.


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