West Virginia now has 16 juvenile drug courts spread across the state. On Monday, state Supreme Court Chief Justice Brent Benjamin was on hand for the opening of the newest court in McDowell County.

Benjamin says the purpose of the program is aimed at reaching out to teens before their drug use goes too far.

“We approach it not just from the juvenile involved but also with the family. And what we’ve been able to do with some tough love and some sanctions is to turn kids from a bad path in life to a good path in life,” Benjamin said during an interview on MetroNews Talkline.

Of the 15 juvenile drug courts already in place, 67 percent of teens graduate. And of those only 14 percent go back to drugs. Benjamin says that’s a dramatic turnaround.

He’s hoping they’ll be just as successful in McDowell County where drug abuse is a serious problem for both adults and juveniles.

Benjamin says one of the best parts of the program is that it keeps kids out of the juvenile court system.

“You send kids to juvenile detention, in some cases that can cost 100-thousand dollars a year,” Benjamin said. “So we’re not just turning lives around [with the juvenile drug court], we are saving tax payers a lot of money.”

In order for the program to be successful, Benjamin says it takes a lot of people to make it happen from judges to social workers and everyone in between.

It also means a true commitment from the teens placed in the program.

“It takes a combination of requiring a lot of drug testing. They’ve got to stay clean,” Benjamin stressed. “Teaching community service, discipline.”

Benjamin says teens that take the program seriously and work at it usually succeed. The goal is to teach the juveniles that drugs don’t have to be a way of life, there’s something better and more fulfilling out there for them.

The Supreme Court hopes to add more juvenile drug courts across the state in the months to come.


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