WV Delegate Lane pushes drug court program expansion - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

WV Delegate Lane pushes drug court program expansion

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Delegate Patrick Lane, R-Kanawha, has his eye on expanding a program that reduces recidivism rates across the state.

During a lengthy meeting of the House Judiciary Committee April 9, Lane offered an amendment to Senate Bill 371, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's prison reform bill, that would expand the drug court program that has been in place in some counties for 10 years.

Recent reports have shown drug courts can reduce recidivism across the state. Supreme Court Justice Brent Benjamin told a legislative interim committee in October that more than 420 people graduated from the program between 2003 and 2012, meaning about 54 percent of participants successfully complete the program. In West Virginia, about 20 adult drug court programs cover 30 counties, but Delegate Patrick Lane, R-Kanawha, offered an amendment that would expand the program into the other 25 counties.

"The goal here is to encourage treatment and prevent recidivism, that we expand and model the existing program, which is wildly successful, and expand the drug court program across the entire state," Lane told the committee.

Lane said expanding the program would actually save the state about $14 million annually, and it diverts resources from inmate housing to inmate rehabilitation.

But, not so fast, other delegates said.

"Let's be clear, the Supreme Court already has the power to do this," said Delegate Justin Marcum, D-Mingo. "There's been a lot of time, a lot of effort that went into this plan. For us to overstep, I would say, and try to add this into a bill that's been studied, had a lot of thought go into it, I urge rejection for those reasons."

Steve Canterbury, administrative director of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, acknowledged that the court does indeed have the power to expand the program. But Marcum said the Legislature should back off and not mandate the court to expand the program, citing local needs.

"What's right for Kanawha County might not be right for Mingo County or any other county in the state," Marcum said.

"I don't think it's our duty to tell the Supreme Court what to do but to let them handle it if they see fit."

But Republican delegates disagreed with Marcum's point of view. Lane conceded that the court has jurisdiction over the drug court and can decide whether to expand it. But, he said, the Legislature needs to promote the program.

"As the policy makers for this state, it is important for us to make a statement that we are in fact in favor of investing in the people and promoting the most successful, the most successful recidivism program that we've heard of," Lane said. "We had a bill before this committee a few weeks ago that dealt with a recidivism program. It was touted as being so successful we wanted to study how to expand it across the state. The recidivism rate for that program was 25 percent." The recidivism rate under the drug court program hovers around 9 percent.

But what really needs attention, according to Delegate John McCuskey, R-Kanawha, is the culture of addiction.

"What we have is a problem of addiction in this state," McCuskey said. "What this amendment does is enable a proven tool to help quell that tide.

"I think at some point we're going to have to stop talking about saving money and start talking about saving people."

Lane's amendment was adopted 14-11, with Democratic delegates Meshea Poore, D-Kanawha; Mike Manypenny, D-Taylor; and Mark Hunt, D-Kanawha voting in favor of the amendment.

Tomblin's spokeswoman Amy Shuler Goodwin said the governor's office is overall happy with the bill and the amendments. However, she said they're not sure how expanding the drug court program will work in rural communities.