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Westmoreland County Creates Drug Court to Combat Drug Addiction

Another Pennsylvania county has recognized that rehabilitative and therapeutic courts are a great way to treat addiction and thereby reduce recidivism. While drug addiction has always been a problem, the type of people who are becoming addicted is changing. Addiction has often been viewed as primarily affecting the lower class of citizens, but more and more middle and upper class people are becoming hooked on painkillers like OxyContin and Percocet after being prescribed the medications following a surgery or injury. After the doctor  refuses to renew the prescription, the person either purchases the narcotics illegally or switches to other drugs like heroin. Other people are unable to afford the drugs, so they may resort to burglarizing homes and stealing prescription medications, or they may steal money or other items to sell to get money to buy the drugs. Aside from drug possession and drug delivery charges, many drug addicts face charges such as burglary, theft, and receiving stolen property. The victims in many theft cases are family and friends of the drug addict who simply want their friend or family member to get help.

Pennsylvania Drug  and DUI Court Programs

Many Pennsylvania counties have created rehabilitative or therapeutic courts, such as Veterans Court, DUI Court, and Drug Court. The primary focus of such courts is intensive rehabilitation in exchange for a reduction in the punishment that is imposed, such as a reduction of the sentence or a reduction of the charge. As an example, the Centre County DUI Court program often deals with third-time drunk driving cases in which the person faces a mandatory minimum sentence of one year of incarceration. DUI Court participants are required to spend three months in jail, followed by nine months of in-home detention. While the avoidance of jail time is a great inducement to have a person participate in DUI Court, the participant is required to complete an intensive rehabilitative program, which would probably include daily attendance at AA meetings, attending two to three counseling sessions per week, and appearing in court every other week to provide the judge with a status report.

The proposed Drug Court in Westmoreland County may allow participants to have charges reduced or even expunged. Currently, many counties use pretrial diversionary programs to allow people charged with Possession of a Small Amount of Marijuana or other drugs to avoid a conviction and have the charges dismissed and expunged. However, most counties do not allow individuals charged with felony offenses of drug delivery or possession with intent to deliver to participate in the ARD or PWOV program. The Drug Court program may allow the felony charges to be reduced to a misdemeanor possession offense or be dismissed entirely. By avoiding a felony record, it makes it easier for the person to obtain employment in the future and thereby move forward in a positive manner. Regrettably, too many first-time offenders of drug delivery are saddled with a felony conviction that substantially impairs the person's ability to move forward and break the chain of addiction.

In a recent Centre County case, a young woman had pleaded guilty to delivery of heroin, a felony offense. On paper, the woman's activities were not acceptable and clearly needed to be punished by the sentencing judge. However, the girl's father spoke to the judge to shed more light on the situation and explained that his daughter had been an honor student who was injured while playing a sport at Penn State. While recuperating from the injury, the girl became addicted to pain killers, and after she could no longer afford the pain killers, she resorted to using heroin. In order to afford the heroin, she began selling the drug. A very sad story and one that is becoming more of the norm in drug addiction cases. Hopefully, Centre County will consider creating a Drug Court program to deal with the growing need.

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