Culpeper County is applying for a $500,000 federal grant that would help establish a drug court, which is supposed to reduce recidivism rates and decrease jail population through a long-term counseling program and other rehabilitative measures.
Commonwealth Attorney Paul Walther recently explained to the board of supervisors that the program should also present savings opportunities by decreasing the funds spent on battling the drug problem. He explained drug court is an alternative to traditional adjudication, with a process in which judges, prosecutors, probation officers and treatment professionals collaborate to reduce crime and increase a defendant’s sobriety.
“Early on and up until I guess about the 80s or 90s, we didn’t have a lot of statistics...The early way to attack it - the war on drugs - was essentially to lock them up and throw away the key. And it became very clear that that’s not the way to do it,” Walther said.
While the grant offers $125,000 in funding annually over four years, Walther estimated annual operational costs between $127,000-$233,000. That would include the hiring of a part- or full-time program administrator.
Over the long haul, Supervisor Brad Rosenberger suggested that drug court would likely save the county money.
Supervisors Chairman Gary Deal said that while the cost is important, hopefully anyone who participates in the program would receive better counseling and treatment than they would otherwise. Supervisor Bill Chase said drug court would be worthwhile if it saves just a few people.
Establishing a drug court would require a 25% match, which the Virginia Department of Corrections has offered via the hiring of a probation officer. It is also likely that the state would provide additional funding once a drug court is implemented.
While Supervisor Jack Frazier doubted that the presented costs are an accurate depiction of the funding necessary for a drug court, he noted the importance of making treatment being the primary focus of the program. Frazier suggested using existing staff to run the program, but Walther explained that would be a difficult path to follow as employees already have substantial duties.
Frazier and Supervisor Tom Underwood agreed that a drug court would have additional expenses if some employees began focusing on drug court instead of their traditional duties. Walther countered that there could be potential savings in reducing the amount of time and money spent responding to drug calls.
In making the case in favor of drug court, Walther presented a series of statistics illustrating the local drug problem. Walther said it is impossible to calculate how much money is spent battling the drug problem considering all of the expenses from the arrest through the prosecution. But he provided some figures explaining the resources involved.
From 2016-2020, for example, he said the county saw 360 overdoses, 43 of which were fatal. Of those, he said 216 were heroin overdoses. These statistics, he noted, were provided by the local law enforcement and do not paint a full picture of the issue as not every overdose is reported to the authorities.
Walther also noted that drug court could save both money and time that is spent responding to overdoses.
From 2015-2020, he said Culpeper County EMS - which does not include volunteer units - administered 399 units of the opioid-overdose antidote naloxone, which is otherwise known as Narcan. Additionally, EMS spent 426 hours responding to overdoses.
In 2020, Culpeper Human Services placed 13 children into foster care for drug and alcohol-related issues. Every time this happens, Walther said, costs the county between $50,000-100,000.
From 2018-2020, drug-related criminal filings in the local circuit court numbered 964, 951 and 787.
Additionally, Walther said the state saves $19,234 for each adult participant in drug court programs. Quantifying the true savings is hard, he added, but the bottom line is that drug court saves lives and money.
While okaying the grant application, the supervisors will later further discuss the possibility of implementing drug court.