ALEXANDRIA, VA – In August, the City of Alexandria launched the Alexandria Treatment Court (ATC) as an alternative to jail for people accused of nonviolent felonies with significant substance use disorders–and it is already making a difference in the lives of five individuals.
An alternative to traditional court adjudication of individuals with drug-related offenses, treatment courts take a multidisciplinary approach to address the chronic behavioral patterns associated with drug offenses and reduce recidivism rates. According to Virginia’s Judicial System, re-arrest rates of treatment court graduates are approximately half or less than that of non-treatment court graduates–which not only saves the judicial system money but also changes lives.
“Citizens who commit nonviolent crimes as a result of a substance-use disorder do not need lengthy incarceration,” says City of Alexandria Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter, whose office is housing the program. “Instead, they need treatment and understanding so that the underlying root cause of their behavior is addressed.”
Multiple agencies partnered together to form the ATC. In addition to Porter’s office, the Department of Community and Human Services, Sheriff’s Office, Probation and Parole and Police Department are collaborating and providing staff to support the program. The ATC Treatment Team, which is responsible for the day-to-day operation and direct interaction with participants, includes a treatment court judge and prosecutor, the participant’s public defender, a probation officer, a therapist and a police officer.
In Alexandria, individuals accused of felony offenses related to the possession or consumption of drugs or property crimes committed to support their addiction are eligible to participate. During its first year, the program is limiting the enrollment to between five and ten individuals to ensure that participants can be adequately served within existing agency budgets as well as to iron out wrinkles before operating on a larger scale. During this pilot phase, the treatment court is exploring grant funding opportunities to expand its capacity.
Once screened, individuals are offered the chance to participate in the five-phase program, which takes an average of two years to complete. Each phase has different goals that must be accomplished to be able to advance to the next phase.
Throughout the program, participants meet regularly with a case manager, treatment providers and a probation officer as well as attend treatment court sessions and participate and engage in recovery programs and networks. The ATC Treatment Team meets weekly to review the participants’ progress and potential challenges.
So far, the program is making a difference in the lives of the first five participants, says Senior Therapist Lina Cuda, who serves on the ATC Treatment Team.
“The structure and accountability provided to ATC participants is leading to periods of success in their recovery,” says Cuda. Because of the coordination of services and constant interaction with the participants, the risk of relapsing has also been minimized in the transition between jail and treatment and relapses are immediately addressed, she adds.
The team has come up against some challenges, particularly in the areas of selecting eligible participants and the lack of housing resources in Alexandria.
“Selecting participants that meet ATC criteria from legal and clinical perspectives while also meeting Alexandria residency requirements has been a bit of a challenge,” says Cuda.
Regarding housing, the team has discovered that the majority of participants are faced with chronic homelessness and lack of resources due to the chronic nature of their substance use disorders.
Despite the challenges, the program is providing a life-changing support network to participants–a support many of them lacked in previous recovery efforts, says Cuda.
And the program is growing. ATC is currently in the process of screening two more participants and will accept up to 10 on a case-by-case basis over the next year.
The ATC Steering Committee is currently soliciting grants and community resources to expand the program in order to open it to more participants and hire an ATC coordinator.
“The Alexandria Treatment Court represents a remarkable commitment from agencies and individuals throughout the City who are working together to find a more productive way to address the harms of substance abuse that play out in the criminal justice system,” says David Lord, Senior Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney. “This program is a unique opportunity to make a difference in the lives of individual participants, while improving public safety and promoting a more just community.”
Cuda agrees. “It’s exciting to be part of the ATC Treatment Team,” she says, “to see this team grow and develop and provide critical and much-needed structure and accountability so that participants can achieve long-term recovery.”
To learn more about substance use disorders and recovery, visit alexandriava.gov/DCHS.