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State Legislators Put Drug Court in Jeopardy


Richmond's drug court program may go up in smoke if proposed funding cuts made in the House of Delegates are not reversed during budget negotiations between the House and the Senate.

"If state funding is eliminated, the Adult Drug Court must terminate operations," says Judge Margaret Spencer, the Richmond Circuit Court judge who oversees the city program.

Drug courts started in Virginia in 1995. They offer rehabilitation services as part of the sentencing for people convicted of crimes related to an addiction.

Richmond's drug court receives $232,000 annually from the state, but advocates argue that the investment saves Virginia money.

According to the court's most recent cost-benefit analysis, it costs between $3,215 and $4,287 a year to put an offender through the program, while it would cost $36,500 to keep the same inmate in the Richmond City Jail. The program boasts a recidivism rate 44 percent lower than that of the city jail for drug offenders.

Gloria Jones, coordinator for Richmond's program, says drug court reduces the underlying cause of crimes that might not seem drug-related at first.

"People fail to realize when people are out here stealing socks and cigarettes, little stuff -- that's to sell off quickly for drugs," she says, refuting some legislators' suggestions that drug court should only be for drug possession or dealing convictions. "So all of the larcenies, all the [breaking and entering], it's all connected."

State Delegate and former Richmond City Council member G. Manoli Loupassi (R-Richmond) says he's confident the money will be restored in the session's final budget negotiations.

"I think that the drug courts will get some funding ultimately," he says. "I think the short answer is we have to figure out a way to prioritize all the needs of the commonwealth, and we spent a lot on mental retardation and added a lot in regards to that, so it's just competing interests."

The news marks the latest blow to the program that has been struggling in its city-provided 6th Street Marketplace location. A recent drug arrest at 6th Street further stoked safety concerns for employees and clients there. Accessibility issues also plague the location: One drug court employee had hip replacement surgery and has not been able to report to the second-floor offices because the elevator has been broken for more than a year.

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