By Caroline Boras
Newly elected Commonwealth’s Attorney Chris Billias plans to introduce an initiative to the Rockbridge County Court system to help combat drug crimes.
Billias wants to start a drug docket within the court. A drug docket would link people who are on probation for committing drug-related crimes with a specific judge to monitor their progress. Billias proposed they would meet with the judge once a week to check on their probation.
Rockbridge already has a first offender’s program, so a drug docket would apply to repeat offenders and people on parole.
He hopes that by making offenders accountable to a judge, they will learn to adapt to a drug-free lifestyle.
Billias estimates that 80 percent of the crimes committed in Rockbridge County are drug related. He said there is often a link between other crimes, like robbery or assault, and drug crimes, too.
“It’s really a problem,” he said. “We really need to deal with it.”
Figuring out how to react to and reduce the drug problem in Rockbridge County has become a priority in the county.
During the campaign for Commonwealth’s Attorney this fall, Billias and local defense attorney Josh Elrod debated about setting up a drug court.
A drug court is a separate court that deals with drug crimes. The court decides on judgment or punishment for repeat offenders. These offenders enter the drug court system, where they have access to treatment options.
A study published by the Journal of Criminal Justice shows that drug courts are effective in reducing crimes.
Elrod hoped that by establishing a drug court, the services available for drug treatment and rehabilitation in Rockbridge County would become more “robust and responsive.”
While Elrod did recognize that the services available in town aren’t there for the criminal justice system, he hoped that by making changes to the way drug cases were tried, the community could take an active role in helping prevent future drug crimes.
However, Billias is not sure that drug courts are the right solution for Rockbridge. He fears drug courts would be too expensive.
The General Assembly has to vote to install a drug court. Once it is set up, taxpayers have to cover the cost of the operation. Billias does not think there would be enough people tried in the drug court to justify the spending.
In his opinion, this is why the drug docket is more appealing. It works on the same principles of the drug court, but does not rely on taxpayer funding. Instead, it is up to the offenders to take advantage of the options provided by the court, and they pay for themselves.
A drug docket can’t be introduced until the state legislature appoints a new presiding judge for Rockbridge County. The previous judge, Michael Irvine, retired at the beginning of the year. There is no one on the current staff who has the power to approve Billias’ plan. The new presiding judge has to be appointed by May 1.