Supervisors, Courts Push Ahead with Drug Court

The sheriff’s office, Loudoun County government and the courts are pushing ahead with specialized programs to give law breakers with substance abuse and mental health difficulties another option than incarceration.

In particular, county supervisors have welcomed promising news on plans for a new drug court.

The county’s last attempt at a drug court ran from 2004 to 2012, but was dismantled after supervisors decided they weren’t getting their money’s worth. In the drug court, some Loudoun drug offenders got a chance to avoid jail time after violating probation by going instead to an intensive outpatient treatment program. Offenders would be under intensive supervision and mandatory treatment, and if they fell off the wagon, they could wind up back in jail. But the program at that time could handle few participants.

Supervisors and other county leaders discussed reestablishing a drug court in 2016, but those conversations were cut short when in 2017 the General Assembly stripped funding for a judgeship from Loudoun’s already-overtaxed Circuit Court. Drug court can be very time-intensive for judges.

In May, however, the General Assembly voted to restore funding for every unfunded judgeship in the state. Supervisors had already directed the creation of a drug court advisory committee in February.

On Tuesday, that committee made its report to the board’s finance committee, outlining what it would take to get a new drug court rolling in Loudoun, with plans to start in 2019.

It will require hiring some new positions, including two new workers in Community Corrections, two in the Department of Mental Health, Substance Abuse and Developmental Services, and a new sheriff’s deputy. But some of that cost will be covered by grant money—the county has already won $500,00 from the U.S. Department of Justice to cover the first three years of a new drug court coordinator along with necessary equipment and drug testing supplies.

Other than the grant, in the first year the program is estimated to cost $505,000 in the first year for a new probation officer, two new positions in the department of mental health, and a new deputy. That cost is expected to go down after the first year, since deputies have significant hiring costs for training and equipment.

That is estimated to equip a drug court to start with 20 participants, growing eventually to up to 50.

Supervisors welcomed the news. Vice Chairman Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn) said although “this isn’t all about money,” at about $25,000 per participant, the new drug court seems to be working toward a workable model.

“I’m really hoping that this can be structured for it to be a lot more effective than we were last time, and that was the problem we had last time: we spent a lot of money, and it seemed like there were no results,” Buona said.

County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) said a drug court has the potential to save the county money in the long run.

“It costs about $30,000 a year to incarcerate an adult that has no mental health issues or problems,” Randall said. “So you have to factor the difference in—not to mention that person is probably working, their children are not on the system, all those types of things.”

The Drug Court advisory committee is assembled of representatives from the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office, county administration, community corrections, the county Department of Mental Health, Substance Abuse & Developmental Services, the county Department of Family Services, the Clerk of the Circuit Court, the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office, the Leesburg Police Department, the Office of the Public Defender, the Virginia Department of Corrections Adult Probation and Parole, and Circuit Court Judges Douglas Fleming and Stephen Sincavage.

The finance committee also heard hopeful news on the county’s new mental health docket at the District Court level. That program launched in July aimed at getting suspects whose crimes are related to mental illness into treatment rather than jail cells. The docket, another collaborative effort under Judge Deborah Welsh, is expected to serve up to 10 people in its first six months. Eventually, it is expected to serve up to 25 people. The county is waiting on news about a $750,000, three-year grant to help pay for that program.

rgreene@loudounnow.com

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