Day Report Center aids courts and offenders

by Kate Shunney

Morgan County will start 2019 with a new tool in its box.

The county has opened a Day Report Center in the ground floor of The Pines Opportunity Center on Fairfax Street, the location of the former War Memorial Hospital.

The center is a treatment and supervision facility for non-violent criminals who are in the court system for drug-related crimes.

Stephanie Nichols was hired as the director of the center late last year, and is leading the effort to coordinate services for people working to stay sober and avoid jail.

Day Report Center Director Stephanie Nichols.

Already, a dozen individuals have been taken into the Day Report Center after being referred there by court officials.

For nine to 12 months, those individuals will check in daily with Nichols or Peer Recovery Coach Chasity Whittington, take a drug test twice each week and attend peer recovery group meetings. They will be offered intensive outpatient therapy for substance abuse when appropriate, and can be pointed toward job and educational opportunities.

The idea behind a Day Report Center is to supervise people who have broken the law primarily due to substance abuse problems.

County officials have said a Day Report Center has two big benefits – helping people tackle their drug problem and saving money on the county jail bill. Returning the same people to jail over and over for drug-related crimes hasn’t proved effective and is expensive for county taxpayers.

“It’s allowing them to not go to jail, not quit their job and stay with their support system, if it’s healthy,” said Nichols of a Day Report Center.

For some people, the center will be a place they check in and get services after they have gone through inpatient drug rehab, and are trying to come back to the community as a newly-sober person.

Probation Officer Daniele Hofe said Day Report Center services can be critical to people who are trying to start on a positive path in life.

“It’s another prong in the wheel to help those offenders to achieve and maintain sobriety,” she said.

People have to be referred to the center by some part of the court system – from Magistrate Court, probation or parole.

Hofe said Morgan County doesn’t have a lot of resources locally to help get people off of drugs. But the Day Report Center can help people who return to the county after detox or rehab.

People on probation who need extra supervision are those referred to the center.

“We can’t always be the eyes and ears. This widens that net so we can catch them before they fall,” said Hofe.

Morgan County Magistrate Kermit Ambrose said the regular contact with the Day Report Center is a better alternative to unsupervised probation for someone who has broken the law and has a drug problem.

“That will give us more supervision and help them with their drug addiction,” said Ambrose.

He said magistrates can refer people to the center if they’re non-violent offenders.

“It could be for any cases involving drugs and addiction, and that’s most of the cases we hear,” Ambrose said.

Magistrates have sent some local offenders to the Day Report Center in Martinsburg as an alternative to jail or unsupervised probation for several years. Getting to the center several times a week proved to be a major obstacle for some. Setting up a local Day Report Center was an effort by county officials to solve that problem.

“The addition of the Morgan County Day Report Center offers a new and powerful tool to aid in the county’s effort to combat the drug epidemic,” said 23rd Circuit Judge Steven Redding, who presides over felony cases here.

“Historically, Morgan County has been faced with addicts desiring treatment, but we have fallen short in providing local resources to assist them in recovery. The DRC will allow the court to order addicts charged with non-violent crimes to successfully participate in and complete a comprehensive program to attain and maintain sobriety,” Judge Redding said.

“Those who succeed will be given an opportunity for favorable disposition of their criminal charges. The hope is that we will be able to return addicted community members to productive positions in society, all while lowering our jail bill and reducing recidivism,” he said.

Probation officer Hofe said the entire community will benefit from an offender’s success at the Day Report Center.

“When people are sober and healthy, they’re productive. They become home owners, business owners,” she said.

Helping people get and stay clean and sober helps not just them, but their children and their parents, local teachers, coaches and the courts, said Hofe.

“This bolsters our community, helps make it whole.”

Stephanie Nichols sees the center filling a big need in the county – a need that won’t go away any time soon.

The county will host an Open House at the Day Report Center at The Pines on Thursday, January 24 at 4 p.m.