Prince William’s potential cut to jail drug treatment program draws backlash

April 21, 2013

Prince William County officials are considering cutting local funding for the county jail’s substance abuse treatment program, a move that has touched off intense lobbying from defense attorneys and law enforcement officials who say the program helps inmates clean up their lives, keeps the community safer and saves money.

Although county supervisors don’t make any final budget decisions until a scheduled meeting Tuesday, a potential $607,000-per-year cut to the program took many by surprise last week. Supervisors had considered other potentially painful cuts, including doing away with two new libraries and slashing the local subsidy to the county health department.

The board already has decided to spare the libraries and health department, but the proposed cut to the substance abuse program remained as supervisors sought a compromise to whittle residents’ real estate tax bills while maintaining core services. Those negotiations have yielded a plan that would have the average county resident paying $3,392 in real estate taxes, an increase of 2.3 percent.

County budget officials might have already come up with a solution. Prince William was advised late last week that the county should expect to receive additional state funding that could make up for lost local dollars, county spokesman Jason Grant said.

Board Chairman Corey A. Stewart (R-At Large) said that he thinks fellow supervisors will support using the additional state dollars for the substance abuse program.

“We cut those funds not because this is a bad program but because we needed to get the budget down,” Stewart said. “I’m glad [the state] stepped up to the plate at least in regard to this program.”

Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul B. Ebert (D) said that he planned to call supervisors to ensure that the program received funding.

“It’s got a good history, and it’s a shame from a law enforcement and society standpoint” should the program not continue, Ebert said.

Ebert and others said that the program has helped people stay out of trouble. Known as the drug DORM (Drug Offender Rehabilitation Module), the voluntary program uses behavior therapy to tackle problems related to drug addiction and criminality, according to a program fact sheet. The program also gives inmates access to employment and GED classes.

In the past decade, about 1,700 inmates have received treatment, according to Bill Tracey, chairman of Prince William’s Community Services Board, which helps provide oversight for such programs.

Seventy-one percent of those who completed the program were not rearrested within three years, according to program data. Judges often reduce jail sentences if inmates complete the program, Ebert said.

Anne Godson, a criminal defense attorney, said that many people were surprised to hear the program was on the chopping block.

“They’ve snuck this in on us,” Godson said. “We’ve got drug addicts. If you can stop the user from using . . . they start contributing to the community instead of just sucking the life out of it.”

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