HOLLIDAYSBURG - The severe drug problems being experienced by adults in Blair County are beginning to trickle down to teenagers, which has led to the creation of the county's juvenile drug court for young people up to age 18.
The first cases, involving a 15-year-old and two 16-year-olds, will be heard this week by Judge Elizabeth Doyle.
John Dively, deputy director of the Blair County Juvenile Probation Office, said the juvenile drug court is being started now because "we are seeing an increase in drug offenses."
Most of the problems stem from marijuana abuse, he said, and do not involve the two drugs - heroin and crack cocaine - that have placed so many in the county's adult drug court program.
Until this point, Dively said, the juvenile office has not felt the need for a juvenile drug program, either because the problem wasn't there or because juveniles using drugs were not finding their way into the juvenile system.
Nancy Williams, director of the probation office, said the new drug court is not for juvenile drug dealers. She said their cases are handled by the juvenile court, or, in some cases, transferred to the adult criminal court for trial.
When the drug court convenes for the first time Tuesday, it will be the fourth "specialty court" in the county: President Judge Jolene G. Kopriva oversees adult drug court, Judge Daniel Milliron presides over a court for serial drunk drivers and Judge Tim Sullivan is in charge of a family drug court, designed to return children to drug-addicted parents.
Doyle, Dively and others were trained to conduct a juvenile drug court back in 2006, but it was never put into operation. The team visited a juvenile drug court in York, and attended training sessions in Baltimore.
Kathy Dickinson and Molly Rimbeck, caseworkers who will oversee the young people in the juvenile drug court program, were in Baltimore Thursday and Friday for additional training.
Doyle said juveniles will be required to appear in court at least every two weeks for a case review, accompanied by a parent, other adult relative or clergy member. They will undergo treatment and counseling for drug and other problems and will undergo frequent drug testing.
Programs for some juveniles will be short, lasting only six months, while others will have a program of 12 to 18 months.
If the juveniles successfully complete their programs, the charges against them will be dismissed.
Both the district attorney and public defender's staff will have input into who is placed in the court, Doyle stated.
The treatment programs "will be tailor-made for the participants," she said. The court will have at its disposal a variety of assessments to pinpoint each juvenile's strengths and weaknesses. They also will have a social and psychological history of each juvenile and do a review of his or her family and school record.
Like the other courts, juvenile drug court will operate on a system of rewards and sanctions with an emphasis on the positive. A sanction in the juvenile court, for instance, won't involve jail time but could instead be community service, Doyle said.
She said she is very excited about finally getting her chance to run a drug court program.
"I think we can do something good for the children," she said.
Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.