MADISON — Plans to create a joint Orange-Madison drug court are moving forward.
Earlier this month, Madison County supervisors signed a memorandum of agreement with Orange County leaders and the Office of Offender Aid and Restoration committing to funding a drug court coordinator position.
The position will serve as a liaison between the various entities involved in the operation of the court, including mental health and substance abuse treatment providers; the two county commonwealth’s attorneys; defense counsel; funding sources; Circuit Judge David B. Franzen, who will oversee the court; childcare providers; medical providers; and more.
The position is being funded by both counties based on population, with Orange supplying two-thirds of the cost, or $40,000, and Madison supplying the remaining one-third, or $20,000. The commitment is based on the receipt of grant funds from the U.S. Department of Justice.
In April, the two counties, along with OAR, applied for $500,000 in grant funding through the Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Assistance, Adult Drug Court and Veterans Treatment Court Discretionary Grant Program. If received, the funds would be distributed over 48 months beginning Oct. 1, 2021, through Sept. 30, 2025. It’s unknown when the grant awards will be announced.
Local justice system leaders are excited about the creation of a drug court. A task force has been working to create the program since 2019, first attending a three-day training with the National Drug Court Institute before continuing to meet twice a month.
If implemented, the drug court would serve approximately 20 new participants each year who are non-violent offenders with underlying drug offenses. Participants are those with serious substance abuse disorders who are at high risk of committing further criminal acts.
Participants in the program will stipulate that the commonwealth’s attorney has enough evidence to convict them. Their case will then be continued to a later date and they will be admitted into the drug court program, where they will move through five phases, from intensive supervision with random drug screenings to less intensive supervision and screening, until phasing out successfully.
Participants will be in the program on average 16 to 18 months. Franzen said individual service plans will be developed for each participant with no cookie cutter solutions applied. He said the court will meet weekly in Orange County and participants will appear with full reports being reviewed on each by the task force before the appearance.
Successful completion of the program will result in a dismissal of the participant’s charge or a reduction in the charge, depending on the nature of the offense, the participant’s record and other factors.
Should the participant fail a screening, which Franzen said is part of drug abuse treatment, they’ll either stay at their current phase or move back. If they repeatedly fail, the task force will deal with it in a graduated way up to exclusion from the program. Those who are excluded from the program end up back where they started with the charge that was continued.
Franzen told Orange County supervisors in March that participants in the program will not be in custody while completing it, which will result in a significant savings in the cost to house a prisoner per day. He said most probation offenses are drug related and having a sufficient treatment program would reduce the costs associated with that recidivism. The idea is to address the underlying problem.
“If the drug offenses are driving the conduct, then what we need to do is address the underlying root causes,” Franzen said. “If we can solve these problems, we can reduce the recidivism. We can keep them out of jail. We … give them the opportunity to be constructive, contributing members of society, and not only are they taxpayers, not only are they family men and women raising their children, but they’ve defeated hopefully [the issue].”
Franzen said drug court programs in other jurisdictions have been successful.
“People who are addicted don’t want to be addicted,” he said. “The drug court is designed to assist them to achieve that goal.”
Drug court could begin as soon as the coordinator is hired, depending on the other agencies involved, including the Rappahannock Rapidan Community Services Board which will be providing treatment services. The coordinator position is currently being advertised.