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Drug court well on track

Ask virtually anybody involved in the criminal justice system in the United States, and they’ll tell you that many of the defendants in the system are there for one reason — those defendants have a substance abuse problem they’ve been unable to kick.

Shuffling these people into the same criminal justice system that was designed for other things has been spectacularly unhelpful and unsuccessful at helping these people kick their habit. Simply locking them up for a while for each new drug charge, each theft they conduct to support their habit, each probation violation and so forth does nobody any good, least of all the defendants themselves. What these people need is treatment that can help them kick the habit, plus a team of people that are working to help them and some incentives, like the promise of being able to complete their education or embark on a new career.

Jurisdictions across the United States have been trying to solve this problem with what’s known as “drug court,” which is a special program that’s part of the criminal justice system. Through this program, people who are in trouble with drugs get a team of people who are on their side and want them to be successful with this program that’s been put in place, rather than just throwing them in jail yet again.

A lot of professionals here in Suffolk and Western Tidewater, including judges, lawyers, police officers, probation and parole specialists, and the Western Tidewater Community Services Board are working toward making this a reality. This process has been under way for more than a year now, and the drug court was approved last May. It is hoped that the program can start this July.

Funding is also necessary, of course, and we’re pleased that Suffolk and Isle of Wight chipped in. A $330,500 federal grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance also was a big boost for this program.

We extend our kudos to all of the people who participated in writing this grant and putting this program together. While this will be one of those endeavors where the true scope of the positive results will never truly be known, we look forward to reporting on some of the results that are known.