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Local drug courts workers retool with national trainers

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RUSSELL COUNTY, Va. - Special training has been in southwest Virginia for those who help non-violent criminal offenders overcome drug addiction and stay out of jail. Drug court workers and volunteers have been learning new skills and techniques from national trainers this week. Chris Brown is a retired Galax police officer. By the time he ended his career, he was seeing a third generation of people addicted to drugs and committing crimes. Now, he works for Washington County, Virginia's drug court. "For years as a law enforcement officer, I always wondered if there was something better we could do other than arrest," Brown said. He thinks he found the answer. Local drug courts offering non-violent offenders the opportunity for drug addiction treatment and other programs rather than jail. Brown and other workers, volunteers, police, and mental health professionals are training here with the National Drug Court Institute. "We need to invest in them rather than just trying to put them away for a while. We need to invest in them and give them a chance to get better," Lebanon Police Chief Mark Mitchell said. They are learning the latest techniques to succeed in helping high-risk, high-need offenders overcome addiction, which is often an underlying cause of criminal behavior. "It's really more about recovery as opposed to just focused on sobriety," Vanessa Price said. Price is the division director for the National Drug Court Institute. That effort means taking the program further to include working to improve an offender's family situation, and job and community skills.

Russell County's drug court coordinator Missy Carter said, "We all want safer communities to raise our families, without our children and grandchildren having to constantly be exposed to drugs." "Some of these individuals have challenges finding jobs, have transportation, appropriate child care, housing. Housing is a huge concern," Highlands Community Services Clinical Director Rebecca Holmes said. Trainees can learn the value of tapping others in their community to truly change lives. "It's like a light switch turns on," Dickenson County Commonwealth's Attorney Seth Baker said. Russell County Circuit Court Judge Michael Moore said, "really we hope for a life changed. A life that's not involved in drugs. A life that's not involved in the criminal justice system." While drug courts differ from one jurisidiction to another, those seeing the most success report having an intensive program lasting up to a year or year and a half.

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