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Opening a drug court in Virginia Beach may prove to be a cost-effective and productive way to rehabilitate nonviolent drug abusers locally.
Though drug courts are not new to Virginia, which currently has 34 operational ones spread throughout the state, the move would come as an innovation in Virginia Beach, which, like many jurisdictions around the country, is struggling with a crisis of opiate addiction. Unlike a regular court, which can send probation violators to jail, drug courts set up an alternative: they offer treatment and rehabilitation to nonviolent offenders whose addiction interferes with completing probation.
Virginia Beach’s first adult drug court is slated to open early next year and work with 14 candidates as a trial run.
“We understand they’re addicts,” said Commonwealth’s Attorney of Virginia Beach Colin Stolle. “We want to get them the help that they need so they can become productive citizens and live their lives and not end up in prison for a long time, or worse, end up dead.”
For every $1 invested in a drug court, taxpayers can save up to about $3 in avoided criminal justice costs, according to a National Association of Drug Court Professionals study in 2010. This can stem from reduced prison costs, revolving-door arrests and trial and victimization.
Right now, 23 adult drug courts are spread across Virginia, from Arlington to Tazewell, from Charlottesville to Wise, according to the website for the Virginia Drug Court Association, which was formed in 2000 to promote drug courts and train drug court professionals. Virginia also has seven juvenile drug courts, two family drug courts and two DUI drug courts.
The closest ones to Virginia Beach are the Norfolk Adult Drug Court, the Newport News Adult Drug Court, the Newport News Juvenile Drug Court and the Portsmouth Adult Drug Court.
So far, creating a Virginia Beach drug court has cost taxpayers nothing, as city and state agencies have provided the time and resources and taken on extra responsibilities for this to become reality, according to Stolle. The list of participating agencies includes the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office, the Circuit Court, Probation and Parole, Community Corrections, the Department of Human Services, the Public Defender’s Office, the Virginia Beach Police Department, the Virginia Beach Sheriff’s Office, the Virginia Beach City Attorney’s Office and the Community Service Board.
How it will work
A drug court is a “voluntary program targeted at nonviolent offenders who have felony convictions, mostly grand larceny or drug offenses, and have trouble completing probation because of substance abuse and addiction,” according to the Virginia Drug Court Association.
Candidates, if they are addicts who need help, will be referred by their defense attorneys. After that, they’ll be screened by the court and then another time by treatment providers.
People admitted to the drug court will appear before Circuit Court Judge Steven Frucci every week for 18 to 20 months. The program is broken up in unique phases with different requirements.
One of the phases could be an intensive supervision and counseling program, including two scheduled weekly drug tests and one random one. Participants could also be required to attend counseling between their weekly court sessions.
But these conditions prove to be hard for some. The 2010 NADCP study said 70 percent of substance abusing addicts drop out of the treatment prematurely if they are not supervised by a judge.
Those admitted to the drug court will face immediate consequences for unlawful actions.
For example, if participants skip counseling sessions or test positive for drugs, they will automatically go into police custody. After that, they are eligible to re-enroll in the program.
“Everybody understands in a drug court scenario, addicts are going to fall off the wagon,” said Stolle. “Addicts are going to use along the way.”
Understanding this is why drug courts are different. Instead of facing a probation violation, where a judge can choose to send an offender back to prison to complete his or her sentence, a drug court provides a diminutive, immediate reaction in an effort to rehabilitate them.
“If we can help some people with this system, then I think we have an obligation to do so,” said Stolle. “Virginia Beach, and all the Hampton Roads, and all of the country are dealing with such a difficult time with addiction … it’s our responsibility to do all that we can do.”
The commonwealth attorney’s office is applying for several grants to fund the Virginia Beach drug court. Agencies involved will meet this week to iron out operations details.
Stolle said he hopes the institution can begin screening applicants as early as next month.