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Western Regional treatment program expanding

CHARLESTON — After seeing success with the pilot project in the Western Regional Jail, the West Virginia Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation is expanding the G.O.A.L.S. treatment program to two more jails in the state.

By September, the program will be offered at the Northern Regional Jail in Moundsville, and the goal is to also get it into one more, possibly Eastern Regional or Potomac Highland, said Betsy Jividen, corrections and rehabilitation commissioner. The end goal is to get the program into every regional jail.

"And to have people that are in sustained recovery coming out of these programs and abstaining from substance use disorder and the related criminal content that comes with it," Jividen said. "But the immediate goal is to get it to as many inmates as possible."

While a substance use disorder treatment program has long been offered in the state's prisons, the regional jails did not have any type of recovery programs before the pilot started this year at Western Regional.

The approximately six-month program is designed to bring awareness to a person's unhealthy attitudes and behaviors so they can begin to work toward changing those attitudes and behaviors. Inmates work through the program eight hours a day with the help of counselors and six workbooks with topics like criminal and addictive thinking, relapse prevention, and release and reintegration.

Debbie Hissom, director of correctional health care, said the great thing about the program is it is revolving, so new people can be added at any time and pick up right where the group is.

"A big part of what we are doing is that thinking side of it, the behavioral side of it," Jividen said. "What you are doing not only by your substance abuse but your actions and your activity are affecting so many people with long-lasting impacts."

Successful completion of the program means a reduced sentence, supervised release or some other form of alternative sentencing.

Each person leaves the program with an individualized recovery plan with best practices and tips to help them succeed, like their personal triggers.

"We are trying to stress accountability," Jividen said. "Not only in this program but we are trying to use recovery coaches and making sure they keep their appointments on the outside, making sure they are aware of community services available to them and that they get there. That's always one of the problems: Here's your appointment, but there's not follow up or accountability or reason in these people's minds to go. This way they are accountable to the courts or probation. We are hoping we don't get them back."

Hissom said they want the program participants to know someone is there for them – they have a safety net.

While it is still too early to have any numbers to illustrate success (only three people have graduated), Hissom said they have received letters from inmates thanking them for the opportunity and stating they have already noticed a difference in how they think. Those already in jail are also asking if they can get into the program.

The inmates in the program are housed in a separate unit. The Western Regional program can hold 32 men and 16 females, and Jividen said there are 14 men and eight women currently on the wait list. Any judge in the state could refer someone to the program, which is another reason they knew they needed to expand the program's reach.

The key to the program's success is support from the state's judges, which must recommend candidates. The best candidate is someone who is motivated for treatment. Participants must agree to take part in the program.

Gary Johnson, a former judge and current assistant commissioner for corrections and rehabilitation, said judges have a unique perspective on who would excel in the program.

"You've had these people in court maybe once or twice, and you understand where the issues come from, drug addiction or some other source," he said.

Johnson said the program gives judges one more option for sentencing criminals, many of which are in the situation they are in because of substance use disorder. It can also pair with drug court.

All three emphasized it is not easy jail time.

"In theory, it's a lot easier to sit in jail and do nothing as opposed to working as hard as one needs to in this program," Jividen said. "This requires reading. It requires group. It's long, it's tiring, and it's emotionally exhausting."

Hissom said participants are forced to look at themselves and deal with past traumas. Some people decide they would rather do the time.

As a bonus, the program is inexpensive to deliver. The staff training was paid for with grants, and no new positions needed to be created. As people complete the program, it means they are being housed for shorter — which saves the state money.

Follow reporter Taylor Stuck on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.

Living history, Belle of Cincinnati stops in Huntington
Newport-based BB Riverboats flagship touring the Ohio River

HUNTINGTON— For the river towns in America's heartland that came of age in the 19th Century, the steamboats that dominated the inland river systems at the time hold a particular place in their collective histories.

Huntington, founded in 1871 at the height of the steamboat era, derives its "Jewel City" moniker from a nickname riverboat pilots christened it at the height of the age.

Before rail lines branched into deeper hollows, the river was the only reliable means to ship freight and humans into Appalachia. Many with long-established roots in the Tri-State can still trace back to an ancestor or several who first arrived in the area on a riverboat.

In a macro sense, that's in large part what makes a day-trip on the Belle of Cincinnati so appealing — a delightfully slow, analog throwback to a time when rivers were for more than just looks and recreation to the average human.

But in a more basic sense, who wouldn't enjoy a sunny Sunday afternoon on the river?

"It's a great river experience, and it's the way people had to travel all the time," port captain Kerry Snowden put it as the Belle of Cincinnati loaded up for its first of three tours Sunday in Huntington — stopping in town as part of its annual summer tour up the Ohio River.

The flagship of Newport, Kentucky-based BB Riverboats, the Belle has arrived from stops in Portsmouth and Ashland before moving on to Point Pleasant, Gallipolis and finally Maysville, Kentucky, on its annual eight-to-nine-night summer tour. The modern torchbearer of a forgone Ohio River staple, BB Riverboats has toured its vessels up and downstream each summer for 15 years.

Snowden him self has become part of that living legacy, having spent 46 years navigating the river.

"Even when I started out, there was a lot of pilots that I knew that have long since passed away, but I'm at the point now where I'm where they were," Snowden said. "I don't know if they'll talk about me like they did them, because it's a different era now. But that's fine."

The Belle of Cincinnati is designed with the lavish Victorian decor of the period on three climate-controlled decks with seating for up to 700 people. But the boat isn't a total throwback, and it is stocked modern amenities including full bars, buffet restaurant seating and elevator access, which gives passengers a chance to stroll on the top open-air deck.

Three roughly two-hour tours up and down the river were offered Sunday: a brunch tour at midday, a sightseeing tour in the afternoon and a dinner cruise in the evening.

A full schedule of tours can be found online at

Follow reporter Bishop Nash on Twitter at @BishopNash.

WV adopts new food inspection standards

HUNTINGTON — New federal changes on how restaurants and other businesses are inspected for food safety have been adopted in West Virginia, with the goal of streamlining and standardizing regulations to ensure better compliance, state and local officials say.

Effective July 1, West Virginia moved to the Food and Drug Administration's 2013 Food Code to remain compliant with federal food and drink regulations.

States are given the option to adopt FDA code as is, adopt the FDA code with minor changes or, in rare cases, develop their own food code. The FDA updates its codes roughly every four years, mostly to redefine terms and add in protocol based on new scientific findings.

The major change is in how violations are defined. Previously, violations had been graded by two tiers: critical and non-critical. Critical refers to a potential health hazard that causes a customer to fall ill, such as improperly cooked food or unsanitary food handling.

Non-critical violations do not relate to a customer's health directly, and could be as minor as a burned-out lightbulb or lack of tissue in a restroom.

In the new FDA Food Code, critical violations have been renamed and split into two subsets: priority and priority foundation.

Priority violations are those directly associated with foodborne illness with a

quantifiable measure, such as undercooking. These violations must be corrected in three days.

Priority foundation is a violation in one of the support applications that enables a priority violation, such as poor labeling, misusing equipment, a lack of proper training of recordkeeping errors. These must be fixed within 10 days.

Non-critical violations are now known as core violations, which are also minor. These could include a small lapse in sanitation, operating procedures and equipment maintenance.

And while the new code, with hundreds of pages of material, might strike restaurants as an intimidating new change, it's filled with much of the safety checks they're already doing, explained Rodney Melton, chief sanitarian at the Cabell-Huntington Health Department.

"They're going to look at and think it's a lot of changes, but it's not," Melton said. "It's the things you've already been doing, with some additions."

According to the FDA, these changes with make the code easier to follow by simplifying procedures and reducing redundancies — establishing a more singular, standardized inspection process.

"We put these things out there so that people understand that we're not trying to hide the rules," Melton said.

The code also requires a licensed "food protection manager" be on duty at a business at all times. Code already required a manager-figure — someone to make decisions — always be working, but this individual must now be trained to follow proper food safety.

The health department's admittedly understaffed crew of six sanitarians inspect more than 1,000 facilities for food safety each year in Cabell County, more than 700 of those being restaurants. Melton and his team also inspect 56 pools, 34 public and private schools, 50 childcare facilities, 16 hotels, and 15 campgrounds, among other businesses — not the mention hundreds of licensed septic tanks.

How often a business is inspected is based on how much food prep is involved, Melton explained. A bar that serves only chips or candy bars as its food may only be inspected once a year, while a full restaurant may be checked four times a year.

"Most of them do a great job. You can tell," Melton said. "Sometimes they might not know the correct thing to do all the time, but you can tell that they're trying."

Cabell County restaurant inspections are published every other week in The Herald-Dispatch.