A decade of Drug Court
It's not every day that convicted drug offenders laugh and mingle with the judge, prosecutors, and a state senator on the front steps of the Charlottesville Circuit Court. This morning, however, that's just what happened at the 75th graduation and 10th anniversary celebration of the Charlottesville/Albemarle Adult Drug Treatment Court, a program that offers drug addicts convicted of nonviolent offenses a chance at rehabilitation rather than simple punishment.
"I knew I needed help and they gave it to me," says Velda Conley, one of today's three graduates (she is pictured on the right along with supporter Theresa Hughes, left, and drug court participant Brenda Fortune). Conley, 49, says she had tried other rehab programs in the past with no success. She tears up recalling the support she's received over the past 14 months since she entered the drug court program. Judge Edward Hogshire, who oversees the court, is a "wonderful person," says Conley. "He wants you to get help."
Getting that help is hard work, however. Among the requirements: taking urine tests five days a week, attending several meetings of 12-step programs each week, receiving counseling through Region 10, and working full time.
Even with all that, Drug Court Administrator Jeff Gould says relapses are common– and expected. A first-time relapse lands the drug court participant in jail for three days. The second time, for seven days. After the fourth offense, the participant is kicked out of the program. Successful completion, however, can result in original criminal charges being reduced or dropped entirely.
Statistics show the program works. According to Gould, drug court participants are twice as likely to complete treatment than they are at traditional treatment centers. In the 12 months following completion of the drug court program, only 11.4 percent of participants re-offend, compared to 50 percent who re-offend following jail time alone.
Brenda Fortune, one of the 45 individuals currently enrolled in the drug court, attended today's graduation ceremony, which featured State Senator Creigh Deeds as speaker. Fortune, who was addicted to cocaine, says the program "saved my life." Since entering in November, she has taken a job at Staple's office supply store and has started her own cleaning business.
"It's a better way of life," she says of living drug-free. "It's a change within. You have a purpose, you have money in your pocket, you have more respect for yourself."