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Augusta County LEAD program provides opportunity to avoid some felony charges

Published: Sep. 15, 2021 at 8:32 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA COUNTY, Va. (WVIR) - In Augusta County, a new program giving people the chance to avoid certain felony charges and stay out of jail is now up and running. It’s not easy, but the payoff could be a chance at a new life.

The new Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program located in downtown Staunton is just four months in, and Program Manager Andrea Dilley-Frame says they are right on target for where they want to be.

Sheriff’s deputies make arrests and referrals.

“The first screening tool is actually the officer’s intuition,” said Caleb Cramer, a prosecutor with the Augusta Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office. “Does this person need help?”

Drug dealers and people with a history of violence are not eligible, but individuals facing Schedule 1 or 2 drug charges could qualify.

“What that means in Augusta County is methamphetamine,” Kramer stated.

He wants to catch them before the downward cycle begins. Instead of being charged with a crime, individuals get screened to participate in the 12-month LEAD program, if they want.

“We have had individuals that have had criminal offenses beginning as early as 13,” Dilley-Frame said. “We are seeing a variety of mental health issues, typically a lot of trauma.”

The program includes weekly drug testing, meetings with a case management team, substance abuse and mental health treatment, medical care, community service, and once they’re sober... vocational and educational services.

“Social support groups, so 12 Step, AA, NA, Celebrate Recovery, those kinds of things,” Dilley-Frame said. “That’s very critical for our program.”

It is rigorous. They’ve had numerous participants, but just two people are currently enrolled.

“The reality of when we start implementing the structure and trying to remove the substances it can just be entirely too much at times,” Dilley-Frame stated.

“We are not going to change, you know, the huge enormous social problem that we have with substance abuse in this county,” Kramer said. “We want to be part of, part of the solution.”

Individuals who complete the LEAD program are never charged, but those who don’t... are. Dilley-Frame says even when participation is terminated, individuals are still informed of the next steps and connected to resources.

To learn more about Augusta County’s LEAD program, email lead@co.augusta.va.us.

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