CITY OF ALEXANDRIA, Va. (WDVM) — As the Alexandria Police Department was arresting repeat offenders, a lieutenant approached the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office to weigh some alternatives to prosecuting drug-related crimes.
“The police are really wanting to see a solution to that; they’re wanting to stop the rotating door and understanding that just ‘arrest, conviction, serving time’ isn’t doing it,” said Senior Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney David Lord.
Two years later, a pilot program, known as Treatment Court, was launched in August. It treats people with moderate to high levels of substance abuse disorders who were headed for jail time for drug possession or crimes to feed their addiction. Lord is the Treatment Court coordinator.
“If we’re able to stabilize that person’s life both in terms of those issues pertaining to their addiction, but also all those things that go with causing criminal behavior, those are individuals that we’re going to stop seeing in the criminal justice system,” Lord said.
Lord says the only violent crimes Treatment Court will accept is an assault against a police officer. Two of Treatment Court’s participants were charged with such a crime, and the very police officers they assaulted referred them to the program. After a candidate volunteers for Treatment Court they meet with therapist Lina Cuda.
“It’s almost like a side effect of an addiction when someone is actively struggling with substance abuse issues,” said Cuda. “They will get to the point where they will do whatever it takes to keep the habit of addiction alive.”
Over about three years, participants are expected to attend meetings and therapy sessions, attend court once a week, and meet certain benchmarks; structure and consistency Cuda says most alternatives lack.
“If they don’t have the support and accountability the likelihood of them re-offending is high,” Cuda said. “So through the structure of Treatment Court, through treatment provided through accountability from various professionals in the team, individuals don’t participate in criminal activities any longer.”
The program is running on a very tight budget. Cuda is the only therapist on staff, and they’re only treating five participants. Lord hopes they can eventually treat about 25 at a time if they can hire more staff members.
Alexandria’s DASH bus system has gifted the program’s participants free bus passes to get to and from their appointments. Lord is hoping for more help from the community to supplement its tight budget.