Bids to be sought for drunken-driver center BALTIMORE COUNTY

February 05, 1993|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Staff Writer

Hoping to open its long-delayed center for repeat drunken driving offenders by summer, Baltimore County has decided to seek bids from private contractors.

Yesterday, County Executive Roger B. Hayden said prefence will be given to bidders who promise to interview laid-off county employees before hiring to fill the 25 to 40 jobs needed to staff the 100-bed center. He hopes to send out bids in March for operating the center. The center is in a renovated building on the Rosewood Hospital Center campus in Owings Mills.

The building has stood empty since September while county officials struggled with the budget crisis.

The county hopes the center will reduce the rate of repeat drunken driving convictions from the current 35 percent to below 10 percent, and reduce the number of alcohol-related accidents.

According to county figures, alcohol-related fatalities have ranged from a high of 40 in 1988 to a low of 21 in 1991. Last year, 31 people died in alcohol-related accidents in the county, nearly half the 65 who died in all accidents.

Former Executive Dennis F. Rasmussen conceived of the center more than two years ago, but the project was delayed because residents and local elected officials resisted his idea to put the center near the county's main jail and courthouses in Towson. Initial plans called for construction of a new building.

In 1991, Mr. Hayden decided to take advantage of the newly renovated Richards building at Rosewood. Eighty beds will be for men, while 20 will be for women. The women will be on a separate floor.

The center is patterned after a smaller one in Prince George's County, which has had success in breaking people of the drunken driving habit.

Only 8 percent of the people going through the Prince George's program have been re-arrested for drunken driving, said Mr. Hayden.

Baltimore County's center will give judges an alternative to jailing people repeatedly caught driving drunk. Though they will decide who to recommend for the center's residential 28-day program, the final decision will rest with county jail officials. The center also will free beds at the county's overcrowded Towson jails.

Mr. Hayden said that the Harford and Howard County executives already have asked if they can buy space for their offenders if Baltimore county doesn't use all 100 beds. However, county officials don't expect to have any trouble filling the center, which can handle up to 1,200 people a year.

In 1991, the county recorded 3,247 arrests for drunken driving; 1,573 people were arrested in the first six months of 1992.

Whoever wins the contract will have to put up enough money to get the program started and buy whatever furniture is needed. Mike Gimbel, director of the county's Office of Substance Abuse, said the 28-day program probably will cost participants just under $2,000. The fee will cover operating costs and may produce a profit, he said.

Mr. Gimbel said the center's intensive program will include therapy and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings every evening and weekends. About 80 percent of the residents will continue working their regular jobs. At least two security guards will be on duty 24-hours a day, Mr. Hayden said.

According to a profile from Mr. Gimbel's office, the most &L common drunken driving offender is a white, employed male, between 21 and 39 years old, who earns more than $20,000 a year. Of 2,008 drunken drivers his office evaluated last year, 36 percent were repeat offenders; 75 percent were problem drinkers who were referred to outpatient treatment.

People sent to the center will remain on probation for one year after leaving the program and must receive outpatient therapy at an existing county-sponsored clinic. Currently, repeat offenders often are put on probation and told to get counseling, but sometimes that isn't enough to change their behavior, said Mr. Gimbel.

By privatizing the center, Mr. Hayden will keep Sheriff Norman M. Pepersack Jr. from having any role in its operation. Mr. Hayden is trying to wrest control of the county's jail system from the sheriff and is planning to file a bill on the issue for the County Council's Feb. 16 meeting.

Last year, Sheriff Pepersack opposed privatizing the security portions of the center's operations. Yesterday, he said he does not object if it means the program will open sooner.

"They're footing the bill," he said.

DWI-RELATED DEATHS

1988 40

1989 32

1990 39

1991 21

1992 31

Source: Baltimore County Office of Substance Abuse

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