Operator is chosen for drunken-driving prison Baltimore County hopes for '93 opening

August 06, 1993|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Staff Writer

After four years, Baltimore County finally has chosen a private contractor to run its long-awaited 100-bed prison for drunken drivers.

Formal approval of the deal by the state and county could delay the opening of the facility until year's end. Still, county substance abuse administrator Michael Gimbel said he was "thrilled."

That's because the only company to express interest in the county's proposal belongs to Stephen K. Valle and Charles C. Powell, who have extensive experience in treatment programs.

"This guy Valle built the model," Mr. Gimbel said.

Mr. Valle's Right Turn Inc. is based in Massachusetts and operates drunken-driver programs there and in Pennsylvania and Iowa. Mr. Powell, of Cambridge, Md., has 20 years of experience operating addiction centers in and out of Maryland.

The county's center is modeled after a smaller, 60-bed unit already operating in Prince George's County.

Under the county's proposed arrangement, the private firm must put up enough money to get the program operating, about $500,000 to $750,000. The firm won't see a profit for at least three years. Meanwhile, it must pay the county $75,000 per year to cover the cost of the admitting unit.

Mr. Gimbel said the county will decide who is admitted to the program and determine the fee structure and operation of the center.

When a judge finds a driver guilty of drunken driving, he will suspend the sentence pending completion of the one-year course. The judge also will order restitution to cover the center's fees. Failure to pay would violate a judge's order and could result in jail time, Mr. Gimbel said.

Initially inmates would live at the center for 28 days of intensive therapy, though they would continue working at outside jobs. After the first month, they would return for weekly meetings and breath testing, and would be monitored for one year.

The fees will vary based on a person's income. Someone making less than $5,000 a year would pay nothing the first four weeks, and $25 a week the next 48 weeks for a total of $1,200.

Someone making more than $50,000 a year would be charged $6,575 for the year, paying $625 per week the first four weeks, $168.75 for each of the next 20 weeks, and $25 a week for the last 28 weeks.

The average total cost would be $3,655, Mr. Gimbel said.

According to a 1992 profile of more than 2,000 drunken-driving offenders in the county, 74 percent were employed full time, 48 percent earned more than $20,000 a year, and 31 percent earned between $10,000 and $20,000 a year.

Sixty-nine percent of the drunken drivers were between 21 and 39 years old. Most aren't involved in fatal accidents, though 36 percent were repeat offenders. Mr. Gimbel hopes to improve that last statistic.

"If you can keep them clean for a year, they've got a good shot at staying clean," he said.

Up until now, he said, repeat offenders have not had the best follow-up care. However, one-third of alcoholics don't respond well to treatment, he said.

The county's plan for the center was first proposed in 1989 by then-County Executive Dennis F. Rasmussen, who wanted to build a new facility in Towson.

Roger B. Hayden, the current county executive, also supported the idea, but insisted on doing it without costing the county millions of dollars. The county was able to get use of the newly renovated Richards building at the state's Rosewood State Hospital Center campus in Owings Mills.

More than 3,000 people are arrested in the county for drunken driving every year. Deaths due to drunken driving-related accidents have ranged from 40 people killed in 1988 to 21 people killed in 1991.

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