West Virginia treatment courts seen as successful to rebuilding lives, keeping communities safe

West Virginia

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. (WDVM) — They say if you do the crime you do the time. But there are some exceptions. Some first-time, non-violent offenders are being given a “second chance,” and can stay out of jail.

Circuit Court Judge David Hammer explains many drug offenders suffer from addiction, a form of lingering mental health trauma. Jailing them won’t necessarily keep them from being repeat offenders. But the courts can require they submit to random drug testing, keep appointments with probation officers — sometimes daily – and hold down a job and/or enroll in school. Failing to do this for a full year, and off to jail, you go.

“The program is critically important to restore people to productive healthy lives,” says Hammer, whose circuit includes the eastern panhandle counties of Jefferson, Berkeley, and Morgan. “When they hold employment, they take care of their families, their children, and return to productive citizenship.”

Judge Hammer, based in Jefferson County, credits the commitment of Judge Michael Lorensen in neighboring Berkeley County for the success of treatment courts. The circuit’s chief probation officer says the support of both judges makes a significant difference in the success of the program.

“They have proven to be instrumental in helping the program develop and, quite frankly,” says Danielle Hofe, probation officer, “be successful.”

But what about critics who say “this is the easy way out?” No way says, Judge Hammer. Success in the treatment court program is a tough challenge for offenders, more difficult than sitting in a jail cell without the bridge to getting on the right track .

“Treatment court is the opposite of letting someone off the hook,” says Judge Hammer. “It is our most intense form of supervision. You could be on probation and not have nearly this level of supervision.”

And Judge Hammer and Judge Lorensen continue to put their support behind the treatment court program. And Judge Hammer and chief probation officer Hoke give credit in Jefferson County for the work of the day report center to make treatment courts a success.

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