Monday, January 11, 2010

Drug Court Graduates get 2nd Chance at Better Life

Dec. 24--By all accounts, the Alantha Calloway who wiped her eyes during Wednesday's Charlottesville/ Albemarle Adult Drug Treatment Court graduation wasn't the same woman who entered the program nearly two years ago.

The city native said she had been using drugs and alcohol since she was about 13.

"You think your life is supposed to stay like that forever," she said.

Calloway was charged with drug possession in November 2007 and entered drug court a month later. Her initial noncompliance resulted in jail time. During a three-month sentence in 2008, Calloway gave birth.

"I did a lot of thinking about what I really want for myself and my children," said Calloway of her time in the hospital while giving birth. "I always thought I was a good mother, but I really wasn't. I wanted a better life."

Calloway, 30, said she hadn't accomplished anything until Wednesday, when she stood in front of the Charlottesville Circuit Courtroom with her fellow graduates as a part of the drug court's 100th graduation ceremony.

Drug court is an intensive program for non-violent drug offenders that includes regular drug testing, therapy, court appearances and keeping a job or staying in school. Participants must meet certain requirements to enter and must plead guilty to the offense. After a year of sobriety and no violations, graduates can have their case dismissed or receive a reduced sentence.

Jeff Gould, drug court administrator, said participants initially undergo daily drug testing and several therapy sessions a week through Region Ten Community Services Board. Over time, participants move through four phases of treatment that include a decreasing number of interventions.

Failure to comply with the program leads to immediate sanctions, which include jail time. Gould said officials acknowledge that relapse is part of an addict's recovery, but sanctions acknowledge that drug use is a behavior that they are trying to discourage. Participants can get four sanctions before they may be removed from the program.

The program also includes rewards, Gould said, which can be verbal praise or a small prize.

"We know from research that four affirmatives have more impact than one negative," Gould said.

Denise Lunsford, the commonwealth's attorney in Albemarle County, said drug court allows an offender to address issues that lead to crimes in the community. She said buying, selling or trying to get money for drugs has an effect on crime.

Circuit Judge Edward L. Hogshire, who presides over drug court, said the program can change the course of a person's life. For example, Calloway is close to earning her GED and is seeking a better job.

"Drug court gives them a sense of worth that they may have never had," Hogshire said. "You have to think you are important to change what you do to have a better life, because the system can't do it for you. This program is about hope, about taking people's lives to a different place."

'A human connection'

Although drug court's first session occurred in July 1997, said Dave Chapman, the city's commonwealth's attorney, local officials involved in criminal justice talked about the concept about five years earlier as part of discussion on dealing with drug offenders.

Pat Smith, executive director of Offender Aid and Restoration, said citizens and the criminal justice community welcomed the program, which was initially funded through a federal grant and supplemented with state drug court funds.

As of Wednesday, 220 people have graduated from the local drug court. Gould said 63 percent of participants who enter the program graduate and 82.3 percent of graduates don't reoffend within two years. About 40 people are currently enrolled in drug court.

Gould said about two-thirds of participants are male and most are in their 20s, 30s or 40s. Drug court participants are most likely to be addicted to cocaine, followed by marijuana and opiate painkillers.

One of the big features of drug court is the relationship between the judge and the participants. Hogshire said he both administers rules and acts as a cheerleader.

"My role is also to make a human connection, for them to know I care if they do well or not," Hogshire said. "I can appreciate the effort they're making."

Hogshire said successful participants must want to change their ways and stay away from the people, places and things involved in their drug use. Calloway said she has stayed away from the bad influences in her life and refocused them on home and school.

She said she used to be a negative person before drug court, but now she has a positive outlook.

"I always gave up easily before," Calloway said. "I've been through a lot of different types of programs, but being in drug court, it set me straight."

Paying for it

Funding has been a concern for the 14 adult drug courts across the state. The $3 million in statewide funding was at risk again this year due to state budget woes, prompting local officials to look into other ways to raise the roughly $182,000 that the state contributes each year. Smith said the local drug court was turned down for a federal grant a year ago, but the paperwork will be resubmitted.

Gould said the program's budget has remained steady at around $300,000 in recent years. The rest of the money comes from the city and county. Most of the budget pays for staff and participants pay for treatment on a sliding scale.

Gould said it costs about $25,000 a year to incarcerate someone at the Albemarle-Charlot-tesville Regional Jail and less than $5,000 a year to put someone through drug court. Chapman and Lunsford said drug court seems to neither reduce nor increase their workloads.

Officials said both Republicans and Democrats have shown support for Virginia's drug courts. Gov.-elect Bob McDonnell and Democratic gubernatorial nominee and area state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath County, both have spoken to the local drug court.

Chapman, who is this year's chairman of the local drug court board, said political support doesn't always guarantee funding.

"We've had one administration after another with strong support for it and it simply has been a matter of, 'is there enough money to support their continued state support?'" he said.

Calling Virginia's drug courts "a funding football," Gould said he expects 2010's legislative session to be difficult.

Gould said there aren't any definitive plans if the state's funding is yanked. The decision would be up to the drug court's board. Chapman previously has said the local drug court board has discussed changing the court's structure or management, using savings to fund it or dismantling it.


About 40 people -- including drug court participants, families, local prosecutors, attorneys and others -- came to watch Wednesday's graduation.

The graduates received their certificates of participation, but Hogshire said the final orders would be delayed due to the weather's impact on the court clerk's office hours.

Calloway, who was composed for most of the event, began to cry when she told the audience how her sister had supported her from the beginning. Referencing her own struggle in a lighthearted way, she made the participants laugh when she told them, "if I did it, I know y'all can do it."

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