Why doesn’t Loudoun have a drug court?

John P. Flannery was a federal drug prosecutor in the Southern District of NY, and has served on various drug task forces]

John P. Flannery was a federal drug prosecutor in the Southern District of NY, and has served on various drug task forces]

There is a frenzy among elected officials, seeking to discourage drug use and addiction, including street heroin and prescription drugs, but they mostly bypass drug kingpins, and go for arrest stats instead, chasing the victims of the drug trade, the addicted.

Our current law enforcement policies come awfully close to criminalizing an individual’s status, as an addict, when we know well an addict likely can’t help himself, and may commit other crimes to afford his fix.

In the case of prescriptions, law enforcement resists the critical and fine distinction that a chronic pain patient may be dependent on pain medication to function and the treating doctor is healing rather than dealing prescription drugs. As a former federal prosecutor from New York, I learned early on that drug dependency would never be solved by prosecuting the victims. But it’s easy pickings to criminalize young users and addicts.

There is a partial solution to our drug problem in this County and it’s a Drug Court.
When this was proposed years ago, the County Board of Supervisors said they didn’t want to coddle these “criminals.” In recent days, Republican Delegate Randy Minchew introduced a bill (HB 180) in the General Assembly to create a Drug Court for the City of Winchester, and the Counties of Frederick and Warren, but not for Loudoun. Why is that?

Since 1989, in drug courts across the nation, more than 400,000 non-violent drug abusers acknowledged that they were substance abusers, at rock bottom, admitted their past drug offenses, and participated in special drug programs that not only saved them from jail or prison, but gave them a chance at a fresh start.

Presently, there are 3,400 of these courts across the nation, and a number of them across the Commonwealth.

In a drug court, the offenders agree to attend weekly court hearings with judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, probation officers, and counselors, over an extended period of time that is often longer than any jail sentence that they likely would have received, and this is an integral part of a “tough-love” community-based drug treatment program, the hallmark of which is stern discipline, with 12-step meetings, random drug screens, curfews, and various therapies. Any breach of the rigid bargain prompts stern sanctions up to and including jail or prison.

President George Bush made Drug Courts a critical element of his National Drug Control Strategy, stating, “By giving judges the power to refer people to treatment we reduce criminal recidivism, save taxpayer money, and heal those who have become enslaved by drug addiction.”

When Virginia Supreme Court Justice Bill Mims was a Republican State Senator, representing Loudoun County, he endorsed the Commonwealth’s Drug Treatment Court Act that authorized Loudoun County’s pilot Drug Court project.

Senior Circuit Court Judge Thomas D. Horne and sitting Circuit Court Judge Burk F. McCahill sought to expand Loudoun’s pilot program. But the Board of Supervisors rebuffed their entreaties and we have no Drug Court.

Phil Thompson, Esq., Loudoun NAACP President, said, “We support the establishment of a drug court … This is a way to de-criminalize minor and addictive drug offense … [to] allow offenders to receive education and treatment for first offenses involving non-violent arrests.”

It is cruel sport to arrest the young and “mark” them for a lifetime of compromised opportunity to study, to work, and to vote. Perhaps the passage of time has informed our local Delegate and the freshly installed Board of Supervisors that a Drug Court is a solution that works and should be adopted in Loudoun County – as it has been adopted.