One by one, the eight offenders rose to face two Loudoun County judges and described their jobs, their relationships with relatives and friends -- and how long they had been clean.
Ten months, one said. Four months, said another. Eleven months, the last one said. Each time, the courtroom erupted in applause.
The Wednesday morning check-in has become a ritual. It is one requirement of a program for which the offenders volunteered: Loudoun's drug court, a rigorous treatment program for adult defendants who are addicted to drugs.
Though routine for the defendants, last week's check-in represented a milestone for the program in Loudoun -- its first anniversary.
On hand to mark the day was Addison D. "Tad" Davis IV, assistant deputy director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. Drug courts are producing good results as they spread across the nation, Davis said, citing studies that have found lower recidivism rates among drug-court graduates compared with those who are imprisoned. Drug-court programs also use fewer tax dollars than incarceration, he said.
"We think the drug courts go a very long way to help those in need," Davis said in a brief speech before the court session.
Karen Freeman Wilson, chief executive of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals and executive director of the National Drug Court Institute, also spoke at the event. Wilson called Loudoun's program "one of the premiere drug courts, not only in the state of Virginia, but in the country."
Loudoun's drug court, one of more than 25 in the state, is open to defendants with nonviolent criminal histories who have violated the terms of their probation as a result of drug or alcohol addiction. Once finished with the program, they are sentenced by a judge for the probation violation -- sometimes with more leniency than if they had not completed drug court.
In addition to weekly court appearances, drug-court participants must take frequent drug tests, meet regularly with probation officers and attend group therapy sessions.
Whether the program will last to its second anniversary is in doubt. Its first year was a pilot program, and Commonwealth's Attorney James E. Plowman (R) -- whose blessing is necessary for the program to continue -- has been vocal about his lack of faith in drug court.
After Wednesday's session, Plowman said research has not convinced him that drug court is a good use of funds. Some studies, he said, make "apples and oranges" comparisons between offenders who do not participate in drug court and drug-court graduates and neglect to account for those who start the program but do not finish.
"It's probably beneficial but not to the degree that the promoters say," he said. "I just want to be clear what product we're getting if and when we pay for it."
Plowman has expressed opposition to funding a permanent program in letters to the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors. The board approved $324,000 for three drug-court staff positions in next year's budget, but those funds have been frozen while it reconsiders the program's future in light of Plowman's concerns, said Ben Mays, the county budget officer.
Michelle White, a criminal justice planner with the Loudoun County Community Corrections Program, said she is sold on the program.
"Through this past year, experiencing the program daily definitely has reinforced my confidence in the model," she said.
On Wednesday, the program's uncertain future was overshadowed by a celebratory mood in court. As defendants offered their weekly updates, Circuit Court Judges Thomas D. Horne and Burke F. McCahill responded with a mixture of stern warnings, jokes and praise.
Horne complimented one middle-age woman's "wonderful smile," then offered words of encouragement: "You keep up the wonderful work," he said.