West Virginia Prepares to Offer Community-Based Substance Abuse Treatment

The State Journal 

West Virginia is preparing to launch a select program that will offer community-based substance abuse treatment to people on probation, parole and supervised release.

Starting in nine counties, this pilot comes from the Justice Reinvestment Act of 2013. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin proposed this law to reduce criminal recidivism while tackling inmate crowding in West Virginia’s prisons and jails.

Phase 1 of the pilot seeks to engage behavioral health service treatment providers in Cabell, Fayette, Logan, Marshall, Mercer, Monongalia, Raleigh, Wirt and Wood Counties. The providers will expand their effective substance abuse treatment services to offenders in these communities.

The goal is extend this community-based approach statewide over time. Among its numerous provisions, Justice Reinvestment recommended increasing rehabilitation services for offenders who show a high risk for reoffending and a need for substance abuse treatment, including for those with co-occurring disorders.

“Under Gov. Tomblin’s leadership, Justice Reinvestment puts West Virginia on a path to address one of the biggest issues driving prison growth: substance abuse,” said Cabinet Secretary Joseph Thornton of the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety. “Simply locking offenders up without offering effective rehabilitation services during incarceration, or in the community upon release, simply ignores the problem.

“The programs offered in prisons are effective, but the lack of community-based services for offenders represents a significant gap,” Thornton continued. “The establishment of community-based treatment opportunities promises to close that gap and offers offenders a better chance at being successful, law-abiding and productive members of society.”

Through its Division of Justice and Community Services, the department has developed the pilot together with the Bureau for Behavioral Health and Health Facilities at the Department of Health and Human Resources.

“The increased collaboration between providers and community corrections professionals will expand effective community based services and reduce recidivism among the offender population,” DHHR Cabinet Secretary Karen Bowling said. “This collaborative approach to services development and coordination forges a long overdue partnership and avoids service system duplication.”

Community-based substance abuse services for offenders is among several provisions in the law that reflect data-driven, consensus-based policy options developed during a recent study of West Virginia’s criminal justice system. A group of state legislators and key leaders worked closely with the Justice Center of the nonpartisan Center for State Governments as part of that comprehensive review.