By Carla Branch

Alexandria Commonwealth's Attorney Bryan Porter (courtesy photo)

The Virginia Supreme Court has approved Alexandria’s proposal to open a Drug Treatment Court. Alexandria Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter hopes that the new Court will begin handling cases in early 2019.

“I am pleased to see the result of collaboration between our Commonwealth's Attorney's Office, our Police Department and DCHS to bring these important treatment resources to bear for individuals that can benefit. An effective treatment court will not only achieve better results four residents, but do so more efficiently in the long-term,” said Mayor-Elect Justin Wilson.

Porter and his staff began working on the Drug Treatment Court proposal early this year. “The proposal process is quite extensive and requires buy-in from a number of City agencies,” Porter said. “Representatives from those agencies have to agree to be members of a advisory committee and support the Court,” Porter said. “I was glad that I could make the announcement that the Court had been approved on the same day that we announced the dismantling of an international heroin ring that brought a significant quantity of heroin into Alexandria and the surrounding area. We were able to demonstrate that while those who distribute drugs in Alexandria will be punished severely, we will also help those in our community who are addicted to drugs and who want help.”

The Virginia General Assembly passed the Drug Treatment Court Act in 2004. (Virginia Code 18.2-254.1. Drug Treatment Court Act) Section G of the Drug Treatment Court Act: “Each jurisdiction or combination of jurisdictions that intend to establish a drug treatment court or continue the operation of an existing one shall establish a local drug treatment court advisory committee. Jurisdictions that establish separate adult and juvenile drug treatment courts may establish an advisory committee for each such court. Each advisory committee shall ensure quality, efficiency, and fairness in the planning, implementation, and operation of the drug treatment court or courts that serve the jurisdiction or combination of jurisdictions. Advisory committee membership shall include, but shall not be limited to the following people or their designees: (i) the drug treatment court judge; (ii) the attorney for the Commonwealth, or, where applicable, the city or county attorney who has responsibility for the prosecution of misdemeanor offenses; (iii) the public defender or a member of the local criminal defense bar in jurisdictions in which there is no public defender; (iv) the clerk of the court in which the drug treatment court is located; (v) a representative of the Virginia Department of Corrections, or the Department of Juvenile Justice, or both, from the local office which serves the jurisdiction or combination of jurisdictions; (vi) a representative of a local community-based probation and pretrial services agency; (vii) a local law-enforcement officer; (viii) a representative of the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services or a representative of local drug treatment providers; (ix) the drug court administrator; (x) a representative of the Department of Social Services; (xi) county administrator or city manager; and (xii) any other people selected by the drug treatment court advisory committee.”

Alexandria Sheriff Dana Lawhorne supports the new Drug Treatment Court. "I applaud this initiative by all our criminal justice partners. It's always a good day when you can use alternatives to incarceration for those who suffer from addictions and seek help," Lawhorne said.

David Lord, Senior Assistant to the Commonwealth’s Attorney, has led the Drug Treatment Court effort. “He has done all of the hard work and will be the prosecutor assigned to the Drug Treatment Court,” Porter said. “He is very committed to this effort.”

Alexandria’s Drug Treatment Court will start small. “We hope to handle five to eight cases the first year,” Porter said. “Arlington County operates a Drug Treatment Court and I believe they have about 30 cases.

“There is currently no mechanism for obtaining State funds for new Drug Treatment Courts. The prosecutor must handle other cases in addition to the Drug Treatment Court cases and the judge who is assigned to the Drug Treatment Court must also handle other cases.

“Everyone who is involved must attend a training for Drug Treatment Court personnel. We hope to get that done in January or February and then begin assigning cases in March,” Porter said.

Virginia Drug Treatment Court History

  • 1995: First drug treatment court established in 23rd Judicial Circuit (Roanoke area)
  • A total of 19 drug treatment courts were established between 1995 and 2003 using local funding and federal grants
  • No state funding was provided to drug treatment courts at this time
  • 2004: General Assembly passed Drug Treatment Court Act
  • Placed oversight responsibilities with Supreme Court, as well as authority to distribute state funding
  • Established Drug Treatment Court Advisory Committee with authority to approve new drug treatment courts
  • Set requirements for jurisdictions seeking to establish drug treatment courts, as well as their authorities and responsibilities
  • Between 2004 and 2011, an additional 7 drug treatment courts established, bringing the total established to 26
  • $2.9 million in state funding provided to 14 of the 26 drug treatment courts according to policy established by Drug Treatment Court Advisory Committee
  • 2012: Appropriation Act Language
  • Allowed for the establishment of drug treatment court programs even if not requesting state funds, or specifically authorized in the Code of Virginia
  • No new state funding for drug treatment courts was added between FY 2012 and FY 2016
  • Currently, there are 38 drug treatment courts in Virginia operating or authorized to operate
  • 30 are Adult Drug Treatment Courts operating as circuit court dockets
  • 8 are Juvenile Drug Treatment Courts operating as J&DR court dockets
  • In FY 2016, $2.9 million in state funding was allocated to 14 drug treatment courts in accordance with allocation policy established by Drug Treatment Court Advisory Committee
  • All drug treatment courts receiving state funding were established before the 2004 Drug Treatment Court Act
  • The 2016 General Assembly provided additional funding of $300,000 in FY 2017 and $960,000 in FY 2018