Loudoun County has launched a drug court, a voluntary program in which adult defendants with drug or alcohol addictions undergo months of intensive treatment and supervision.
The pilot program, which began in June, currently has one participant, although two other defendants are interested in having their cases considered in drug court, said Stephen Sincavage, an assistant commonwealth's attorney who is helping to run the program.
Drug courts, first used in Florida in the late 1980s, are intended to help nonviolent offenders overcome addiction and avoid further problems with the legal system. Loudoun's court, the only drug court in Northern Virginia that is part of a circuit court, involves a rigorous treatment program that requires participants to make frequent court appearances, undergo random drug tests and attend group counseling.
Loudoun's court is available only to defendants with nonviolent criminal histories who are charged with probation violations. Offenders who enter drug court must plead guilty to those violations at the start of the program.
At the conclusion of the program, which lasts at least a year, the defendant will be sentenced. The sentencing judge likely will be lenient if the offender has successfully completed the program, organizers said. However, offenders are given no guarantees.
"The person is really doing the program because they want to be clean and sober," said Michelle White, a criminal justice planner with Loudoun Community Corrections. "You really want people who are ready to make a change in their life. By the end, hopefully they will have gotten themselves back on track."
To be eligible for the drug court program, defendants must live in Loudoun and have a full-time job or be in school. Stay-at-home parents are considered to have full-time employment.
White said the organizers designed the program to target people with a significant history of drug abuse under the theory that they are most likely to benefit from the intensive treatment.
Leesburg Police Chief Joseph Price, a member of the drug court's advisory board, said he hopes the program eventually will help prevent crime. He said offenses ranging from petty theft to homicide often are connected to drug use.
"The need to get money to feed that addiction causes people to do all levels of criminal activity," Price said.
Virginia established its first drug court in Roanoke in 1995, and 17 additional drug court programs have been started in the commonwealth since then, according to a March 2003 report by the state Department of Criminal Justice Services. In 2001, Alexandria began operating a Family Treatment Drug Court as part of its Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court.
Studies by the Alexandria-based National Drug Court Institute show that 5 to 19 percent of drug court graduates are convicted of further offenses, compared with 24 to 66 percent of offenders who are prosecuted traditionally.
Under Loudoun's pilot project, potential participants are offered information about the drug court and can choose to be evaluated for the program or have their case handled in the traditional court system.
During the program's initial phase, which lasts at least 90 days, defendants must appear in court once a week, meet with a probation officer twice a week and undergo three drug tests a week. They also must attend group counseling three times a week and participate in Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous.
Three additional phases, each slightly less restrictive, follow. To graduate from the program, participants must have been drug-free for at least six months.
White said the pilot program can accommodate as many as 10 offenders. She said organizers intend to track the progress of participants and hope to institute a permanent program that can provide services for larger numbers of offenders.