Trey Kay, Emily Haavik Published

Us & Them Encore: Court Of Second Chances?


This episode of Us & Them was first released in December 2022, and since then has received a regional Edward R. Murrow award from the Radio Television Digital News Association for best podcast. We’ve updated the episode and want to share it with you again now.

In West Virginia, there are nearly 50 specialized court programs designed to help teens and adults kick their drug addictions. Drug courts divert people away from incarceration into a rigorous, court-monitored treatment program. They are intense experiences, some more than a year long. Participants are drug tested regularly and require monitoring devices.

Graduation rates across the country show success rates from 29 percent to more than 60 percent. There are many supporters within the justice system, but critics say drug courts only work with the easiest first-time offenders and don’t take violent offenders or sex offenders. Some drug courts require a guilty plea before someone can participate, which can limit a person’s options if they don’t make it through the program. 

In this Us & Them episode, host Trey Kay talks with people about this court-designed approach to sobriety that began nearly 50 years ago when the first drug court opened its doors.

This episode of Us & Them is presented with support from the Just Trust, the West Virginia Humanities Council, the CRC Foundation and the Daywood Foundation.

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Joanna Tabit, a Circuit Court Judge in Kanawha County, W.Va., has been at the helm of a juvenile drug court for the past six years.

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Sheila Vakharia, deputy director of the Department of Research and Academic Engagement at the Drug Policy Alliance, a national advocacy organization, describes the organization’s mission as “working to end the war on drugs.”

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Gregory Howard is chief circuit judge in Cabell County, W.Va. and oversees the Adult Drug Court.

Credit: Trey Kay/West Virginia Public Broadcasting
Kerwin Kaye, a scholar who has studied the effectiveness of drug courts, is a professor at Wesleyan University in Connecticut and author of a book called “Enforcing Freedom,” about drug treatment courts in America.

Credit: Wesleyan University
Adam Fowler speaks to those gathered in Judge Gregory Howard’s courtroom in Cabell County, W.Va. as he graduates from the Drug Court Program. Fowler told Us & Them host Trey Kay, he had tried to recover from substance use disorder many times before with no success. “I was doing it for all the wrong people. I was just doing it to make the judge happy … to make my probation officer happy. This time I did it for myself,” he said.

Fowler told Kay his new commitment to turn his life around came after an overdose that left him in a coma. “I had to learn to walk and talk again. And from that moment on, I just knew there’s more to life than death,” he said.

Credit: Trey Kay/West Virginia Public Broadcasting
Robin Sullivan, a support specialist with the people in the Cabell County, W.Va. Drug Court Program, graduated from treatment court in 2019. She told Us & Them host Trey Kay she started using drugs when she was 13.

“My mom is an addict. She was one of the first people who I started using with. And as a child, we don’t ever think that our parents are going to steer us in the wrong direction. But, you know, sometimes people make a choice. Some people, you know, eventually it does become a choice. Some people are born into it,” Sullivan said.

Credit: Trey Kay/West Virginia Public Broadcasting
Jan Rader, former fire chief in Huntington, W.Va., was a central figure in the critically-acclaimed Netflix documentary “Heroin(e).” She now leads Huntington’s Council for Public Health and Drug Control Policy.

Credit: Netflix