HUNTINGTON – Cabell County Prosecutor Sean “Corky” Hammers says he believes some of the current laws should be changed to protect children of drug-addicted parents, a concern sparked in part by a rash of traffic accidents involving drugged parents with children in the vehicles.
Hammers said he plans to push for the changing of child neglect laws for stricter punishment for addicted parents during the 2017 legislative session.
With a large number of drug-related vehicle crashes occurring on city streets recently due to drug overdoses, Hammers said current laws make it difficult to punish addicted parents with felony offenses.
“Not in the statute,” he said. “That doesn’t apply. Being affected mentally isn’t a crime. Sure, I can prove they are affected mentally, but that’s not a crime.”
For example, Hammers said when a parent is found passed out behind the wheel or involved in a fender bender due to drug use, it will often just be a misdemeanor because it is difficult to prove the child suffered serious bodily injury.
Hammers said any time children are witnesses to drug use, in a vehicle or elsewhere, it should be a felony.
“We need to think about providing when such neglect is caused by abuse of controlled substances, it becomes a felony,” he said.
Misdemeanor offenses often result in small fines and a short stay at Western Regional Jail.
Felony offenses not only mean more time in prisons, but also a better chance at getting addiction help.
Nonviolent felony offenders are eligible to apply for Cabell County’s drug court program as alternative sentencing. The drug court program takes drug offenders and puts them through rigorous treatment instead of putting them in jail.
When children are removed from the custody of their parents, Hammers said in a previous interview, his office is mandated by state laws to give parents the chance to reunify the families. The parents will go through strenuous steps to prove they are able to take care of their children properly.
Hammers previously said parents can regain custody while a felony case is still active, but reunification can’t conflict with pursuing a felony offense.
The current punishment for felony child neglect creating a substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury is one to five years’ imprisonment. When asked if he thought that sentence was appropriate, Hammers said it was a step-by-step process.
West Virginia is not the only state lacking in stiffer punishment for adults neglecting or endangering children due to drug use.
East Liverpool police in Ohio recently posted a photo of Rhonda Pasek, 50, and her boyfriend, James Acord, 47, slumped over in the front of a vehicle from apparent drug overdoses while Pasek’s grandson sat in the backseat.
According to The Associated Press, Pasek already entered a no contest plea to a child endangering charge and was sentenced to 180 days in jail. Acord received 360 days after pleading no contest to child endangering and operating a vehicle under the influence.
Any person looking for help with substance abuse and addiction can contact the state hotline 24 hours a day at 844-435-7498 or visit www.help4wv.com.