The Community Corrections program serves Lewis and Upshur Counties, and is one of the oldest programs in the state.
The program and Day Report Center have been in place for 13 years, and offers those arrested on drug charges an alternative sentencing to jail.
Community Corrections work with law enforcement, home confinement and the courts to help get people the treatment they need.
Program Director Cheyenne Walters has been with Community Corrections for almost two years, and has only seen a few people come through the program more than once. Even with those who come through twice.
“We have more successes than failures,” Walters said.
Substance abuse is growing, with the most popular drug in this area being meth-amphetamine. Meth is more accessible and cheaper than heroin, which is more prevalent in higher
economic regions of the state.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), West Virginia has one of the highest rates of overdose deaths in the nation, with 41.5 deaths per 100,000 people in 2015.
“It’s alarming. The population [of the state] isn’t as high to warrant that many deaths,” Walters said.
Walters said that offenders are mostly young to middle-age, with the highest amount of offenders between 20 and 40 years old. No one under the age of 18 is admitted into the program. Most offenders began using some type of drug while still in their teens.
Every program Community Corrections offers helps to intervene and correct before offenders end up in prison. The goal is to get people help and back into productive roles in the community.
The program offers services for drug abuse, counseling, group therapy, job assistance and facilitate parenting classes. They also partner with parole, probation, home confinement and the drug treatment court.
Community Corrections is grant funded, and lost some funding last year, and is losing more this year. Walters said currently there is not enough rehabilitation and detox centers and loss of funding means loss of services.
“Cutting funds is not a preventable measure,” she said regarding getting help to people who need it.
Walters added they have been fortunate to be funded as well as they have, but the slightest cutback puts a damper on the program.
The program began as a pilot program to show counties how much money they would save on jail fees by sending first time drug offenders to Community Corrections.
The idea was for the state to slowly cut funding and let counties take over the program, but counties across the state are in financial trouble. Offenders spend an average of six to eight months in the program. Since July 2016 there have been 141 referrals to the program in Lewis and Upshur Counties. Lewis County alone would spend $1,649,342.40 in jail fees in that same time period.
“It’s mind blowing what Day Report Centers across the state save [counties] in jail fees,” Walters said.
Offenders typically wait four to six months for a stay in a long-term rehabilitaion facility. Community Corrections works to put people in as many classes as they can while they are waiting, and they partner with the United Summit Center. Even with resources the program provides, it is not always a gaurantee a person will recover.
“It’s up to the offender if they truly want to get better,” she added.
Walters worked with juveniles prior to becoming the director of Community Corrections. She said it’s a big change working with adults, but she loves what she does. She credits her staff, saying the work extremely hard.
“It’s low pay for a high risk job.”
On the staff are three case managers, Samantha Ribeiro Matos and Janet McCourt (Lewis County) and Jerry Lewis (Upshur County), two case aides, Tom Posey and Virgil Miller, two contracted counselors Jim and Faith Wilson, and one Batterers Intervention and Prevention Program (BIPS) facilitator Carla Waldo. Walters said they work closely with home confinement officers in both counties.
“They’re always there to help us. They’re a really huge asset to our program,” Walters said.
Case managers are essential to a successful program. Their relationship with their clients is the most important element.
Offenders who are in the program also spend a lot of time doing community outreach. They have collected donations for the Salvation Army, the animal control facility and they filled the wishes of 30 children from the Angel Tree in 2016.
They have also worked on Adopt-A-Highway. Walters said it gives the community a better outlook of offenders in the program who are trying to turn their lives around.
The program tries to get communities involved, which can help remove the stigma of recovering addicts.
“It’s going to take everyone,” Walters said.
One of the first steps people in the program must take is to be honest with themselves about their addictions. Clients must also submit to random home checks, drug screens, and they can not have alcohol in the home.
For Walters, she credits her staff with the success of the program.
“You don’t how proud I am of these employees. They’re the heart of the program. They put in huge amounts of work with little resources. They’re just great,” Walters said.
Walters grew up in Upshur County, and has seen people she knew in school come through her program.
She said it’s hard, “but you want to see the best for your county. I love Upshur County.”
She acknowledged her family’s huge role in her own achievements.
“If my parents hadn’t pushed me constantly, I wouldn’t be where I’m at today,” she added.