It was 1 a.m. on a September night when a JMU sophomore business major was put into a small cell in Rockingham County Jail.
The offender, a New Jersey native, was arrested and jailed for public intoxication and underage possession of alcohol. She said the cell blocked her concept of time. Her new outfit was a large white T-shirt and baggy white pants. She sat there alone and unable to talk to anyone from 1 a.m. until 3 p.m. the next day.
“I had no idea what I was going to get or what was going to happen to me,” the student said.
At the court hearing in Harrisonburg General District Court, the public intoxication charge was dropped. However, for the underage possession charge she had to pay a fee of $400, attend the Alcohol Safety Action Program — also known as ‘ASAP’—, and complete 50 hours of community service at the Mercy House Thrift Store. If she completed this, her charge would be dismissed.
There are three charges that require one to enroll in the ASAP program: DUI, possession of marijuana and underage possession of alcohol. Each offense has a specific curriculum laid out. Offenders who are referred to the program must complete the entire program in order to have their charges dismissed. Scott Drugo, of the Harrisonburg Police Department, said HPD doesn’t enjoy arresting students.
“If we have this to fall back on, it’s almost like a sigh of relief,” Drugo said. “We educated someone … I think the program provides more of a lasting impact than just a ticket.”
Drugo, said ASAP has three phases: intake, education and probation. The offender meets with their case manager, then, after gathering all the information on the offender’s case, the manager decides if the individual needs to be assigned to take an educational class, referred them to a treatment assessment or both.
Director of Rockingham and Harrisonburg ASAP Pamela Simmons said that offenders who take the treatment assessment may or may not need the treatment, depending on their results. If they need to receive treatment for addiction, they’ll also have to attend a four-week class that’s held once a week in addition to the treatment.
According to Simmons, with the completion of the program, those with a DUI charge can only maintain their license and avoid or minimize their jail time. Their charge isn’t dismissed.
Simmons also said, the majority of students in the program are there for underage possession of alcohol charges, but some are there for DUI and drug charges. In addition to JMU students, Harrisonburg residents may also be referred to the ASAP program.
Simmons shared the ASAP’s intent, “It is the intent of Rockingham, Harrisonburg ASAP to reduce the level of accidents, injuries, fatalities and property damage, and our community as a result of impaired drivers by evaluating such drivers as referred by the court and appropriately placing them in an education or counseling program, which is designed to change driving while intoxicated behavior.”
The ASAP fee was $400 for the student. She said she didn’t have a car and had to worry about how she would attend her ASAP classes. After her first class, the instructor asked a fellow classmate to pick her up from campus and bring her to class.
“The first day I came in crying because my Uber didn’t come on time,” the student said. “I set my location for him to pick me up at a certain time … it hit the fan and he did not get me. I was late and they told me that I might be kicked out of the class. Luckily the instructor came out and let me come in.”
Drugo said that for people who have “taken a wrong turn” get the opportunity to fix it before going further down a path they would not enjoy. He said the program may not be easy due to it being expensive and time-consuming, but it is a great option for people who want a clean record.
“It really depends on the person if they take it seriously or not,” Taylor Gail, the ASAP enrollment clerk, said, “But seeing results, watching the process that people can go through is very rewarding.”
Simmons said there are some who refuse to fully change.
“I vividly remember one gentleman who, while he was in here, I wanted him to do treatment, he bought it, never did it,” Simmons said. “And then several years later he came back in and he said, ‘Who is that person you want me to see? I’m ready.’”
ASAP is located downtown, directly across from an ABC Liquor store. The student said that people may feel this contradicts the whole purpose of the program, but Simmons said that if a student attending ASAP really wanted to drink, they’re surrounded in Harrisonburg, especially downtown.
Simmons said that the program had to find a new building, and fast. It just so happened that their current location was the cheapest one available at the time. Simmons said they’ve never encountered a situation where an offender expressed their concern about the liquor store.
Drugo said for students who have the mindset of, ‘Oh I’m just a college student and I don’t have a drinking problem,’ the program can really change the way they think.
The student said that being in a class with others in the same position helped her get through it.
During her ASAP classes, the student said her instructor shared stories about students who died at JMU from drinking. One that stuck with her was a story about a girl in a sorority. She’d been out drinking and was dropped off at her apartment by a sober driver. No one else was home so she was alone, upset and decided to keep drinking. Later that night she died of alcohol poisoning. For the student, she said that it was tough to hear because no one should have to die that way.
Six months later, the student had another encounter with a police officer while walking with an open container. She broke down and explained that she had just completed ASAP and understood the consequences. The cop let her go and she said that’s when it all clicked for her.
“ASAP is a good program and is necessary,” the student said. “I hated it at first but people should learn from their mistakes and I was wrong in that instance.”
Contact Hannah Sternberg at email@example.com. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.