Gemeinschaft Home partners with the Rockingham Harrisonburg Drug Treatment Court Program, to provide housing for males who need residential support.
Contributors: Paige Sinno, Hannah Kaufman, Joseph McCarthy
Before December of 2017, the only option for offenders with chronic drug and alcohol addictions was jail time. Since then, the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Drug Treatment Court, or Drug Court, for short, has been providing a new approach with an addiction and life recovery program which allows nonviolent, repeat offenders, who plead guilty, to have their sentencing delayed in order to complete a rigorous two-year process focused on addiction education, treatment, and supervision.
The push for a local drug court started about two years ago as several community leaders raised concerns about the growing inmate population at the Rockingham County Jail. The initiative had the backing of the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Community Criminal Justice Board, which was looking to ease overcrowding at the jail. Outside of Harrisonburg, the state of Virginia offers 36 drug treatment facilities ranging from all points of the state.
Drug courts are a nationwide initiative, existing in all 50 states, as well as an international movement in the Americas and the Caribbean, Australasia, and Northern Europe. However, drug courts operate on a local level and are specific to each community.
Drug court cases are on a separate court docket with dedicated judges who take a somewhat unusual route to pursue three primary goals: to reduce substance use, to lower recidivism rates, and to rehabilitate participants.
Drug court is a community effort; it involves the daily communication and teamwork of judges, court personnel, treatment providers, case managers, and other social service workers, as each participant requires a specialized program based on their personal needs.
The program is aimed toward recovery by holding participants to honesty and demonstrated effort above all else; mistakes, including relapse or violation of procedure, are sanctioned but not disqualifying until their accumulation makes recovery appear untenable. Participants do not have their charges removed upon completion but rather avoid incarceration and continue on a path to sobriety, while those who opt out or have their program terminated must return to court to face sentencing.
The Harrisonburg/Rockingham Drug Court program began with only 20 participants and has grown to offer services for hundreds of city and county residents. Participants, who are classified as nonviolent but likely to reoffend, go through five program phases lasting almost two years. With each phase the intensity of supervision and treatment is progressively reduced. Throughout the entire program, participants will follow their own individualized treatment plan and be administered drug tests to ensure their adherence and recovery. Every participant is held accountable to rigorous standards throughout the course of the program.
One of the issues the drug court and its community partners are facing is the shortage of stable housing for those involved in the program. Currently, there are few housing options for men in Harrisonburg, including Oxford House and Gemeinschaft Home. There are almost no housing options for women going through the program in Harrisonburg. For more housing accommodations to be made available for participants—women in particular—the Harrisonburg community will need to be on board with the process and fully recognize the value of the program.
One way to get more community buy-in is to point out that the drug court is beneficial for the Harrisonburg community in terms of both costs and community development. Providing nonviolent drug reoffenders with an alternative to jail helps to actually treat them so that they can one day contribute to society in a meaningful way.
A study funded by the Department of Labor found on a national level that 84% of drug court graduates have not been rearrested after the first year, and 74% of participants have no arrests after two years of graduation. And, according to the U.S. Department of Justice’s drug court evaluations, the likelihood of offenders being incarcerated after completing the program and being diverted to drug court is reduced, between 50 percent and 60 percent. Studies also have shown that, even with treatment costs included, drug courts saved localities an overall average of $5,600 to $6,200 per offender compared to incarceration.
While new to the Harrisonburg area, the drug court program is truly valuable to the community. Within the last year the community has seen 2 successful graduates, and currently there are around twenty participants awaiting graduation and new beginnings.
Gemeinschaft Home furnishes support for participants in a number of county and court services programs, including the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Drug Treatment Court. Dr. Amanda Teye, a JMU professor who helped establish the local drug court program, points out that “Gemeinschaft Home serves a dual function in helping the program maintain its effectiveness by allocating residential space and assistance in relapse and recovery care” via randomized and weekend drug testing of participants.
Drug court is essential for those who have not responded well to traditional supervision, such as probation after incarceration. Because the program serves the local community, participants must be local residents, demonstrate a high risk of recidivism based on their continued addiction, and have never been charged with or convicted of violent or gang-related crimes.
Depending on individual needs, male drug court participants receive residential services at Gemeinschaft Home, particularly during the first two phases of their treatment plan. That means they receive room and board and are held to the same standards and duties of organized community living as residents in the other programs. Thus, Gemeinschaft Home is not just a place for these men to sleep, but an ever-acting classroom for lessons of responsibility, sobriety, and purpose in life.
Overall, the Gemeinschaft Home and Drug Court partnership helps the community provide formerly incarcerated and chronically addicted individuals enhanced services to help straighten out their lives.