The first candidate for Loudoun’s new Drug Court has entered the program, hoping for a shot at changing his life.
A partnership between a broad spectrum of legal, human services, and law enforcement agencies, drug court diverts people whose felony offenses are driven by addiction. Offenders get a chance to avoid jail time and break the cycle of addiction and incarceration, going instead to an intensive outpatient treatment program with weekly check-ins before a Circuit Court judge.
It is Loudoun’s second attempt at a drug court. The last drug court ran from 2004 to 2012, but county supervisors shuttered the program when they decided they weren’t getting their money’s worth. With restrictive policies both on who could enter the program and how easily they could be kicked out, few people entered the program, and fewer successfully completed it.
Only people who had violated probation on a non-violent drug offense—not including possession with intent to distribute—could be channeled into drug court.
According to Director of Community Corrections Jim Freeman, over six years, the program saw only 95 participants and 26 graduates.
On Wednesday morning, the new drug court team got the program’s first participant, and a second may be close behind.
The first participant in the new drug court is just the kind of candidate who could not have entered the old program. While 30-year-old man is accused, among other crimes, of violating probation, he entered drug court through a plea agreement on new offenses.
He was accused of possession of a controlled substance, a felony, and trying to fake a drug screening test, a misdemeanor. Under his plea agreement, he faces 30 months behind bars for those offenses. He could also have been sent back to prison for four years after violating probation.
Instead, judges ordered him freed Wednesday, with his first meeting at the Department of Community Corrections that afternoon, and his next at 9 a.m. Thursday morning.
He has a long road ahead. Drug court is an intensive program involving frequent random visits from law enforcement, drug tests, self-help groups, professional therapy sessions, job counseling, and a weekly trip to the courtroom. It is expected to last more than a year, and if and when he finishes drug court, he could still face three years of supervised probation—the court will take that up when he graduates.
He also still faces the consequences of pleading guilty to a felony, such as losing his right to vote.
Judge Stephen Sincavage told him, “your hard work is going to be key to your success in this program.” The offender has already begun that work—he told the court he has a job lined up.
Judge Douglas Fleming said, “it is an important day,” and said not many people have a team around them—like the drug court team—dedicated to their success. And he said it may be the biggest opportunity in his life since becoming addicted.
“Today is the first day, with hard work on our part and the help of the drug court, that you begin to separate [yourself] from all the substance use and all the negative behaviors,” Fleming said. “… I hope you’re willing to accept that you’re worthy of saving.”
“Thank you for everybody,” the man said. “I’m really trying to get my head clear. I need to go out there and do the right thing.”
A second participant was unable to join Wednesday morning because his attorney was at a conference in Fredericksburg, according to Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Angela Vernail. When court adjourned, judges and the drug court team were looking for an attorney to represent him, hoping to find one possibly by the end of the day or the week.
That candidate was eager to join, and hoped an attorney would be found soon—he told the court his housing upon release is conditional on his entering treatment.
[Note: While the names of participants in the drug court program are public record, absent a compelling reason or request from a participant to do so, Loudoun Now has elected not to publish them.]