Prosecutor hopes to help first-time offenders stay in school

March 15, 1994|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,Sun Staff Writer

Assistant State's Attorney Bobbie Fine is developing an educational program for first-time offenders who commit misdemeanors and are at risk of dropping out of school or who need help academically.

The key to that program, which she would like to start by September, is the possibility that misdemeanor charges against some nonviolent offenders could be dropped.

"I will dismiss certain cases if they complete an educational program," said Ms. Fine, the county's only juvenile prosecutor and a former reading teacher. "It's that important."

The idea has won initial support from Superintendent Michael E. Hickey, who has discussed the concept with Ms. Fine and Drew Watt, supervisor for the county's juvenile services.

He said that if the program were folded into the school system's evening school program, which started last year, it would operate at little or no cost.

"It could have real potential," the superintendent said, adding that it could be "a preventive measure before a student marches too far down the [wrong] path."

But he warned: "If we had to establish it as a separate program, there would be a problem, because there's no money."

Dr. Hickey said that he told Ms. Fine and Mr. Watt that he would like to see more details about the program. In their discussions, Dr. Hickey said Ms. Fine estimated that the program would serve between a dozen and 20 students.

Still in the planning stages, the program would be open to juveniles who have committed assault and battery where no injury took place, theft of under $300 or other misdemeanors, Ms. Fine said.

Participating students might get tutoring in the evening school program, or might be tutored by college interns and student teachers could tutor the youngsters, Ms. Fine said.

The length of the educational program would vary according to each student's needs, she said.

Ms. Fine said that many of the young offenders she sees have poor school attendance, poor grades and may be at risk of dropping out.

In Howard County, 1.65 percent of the ninth- to 12th-graders drop out of school, compared with 18 percent in Baltimore City, 3.32 percent in Baltimore County and 3.76 percent in Anne Arundel, according to the Maryland School Performance Report released last year.

Last year, there were 1,200 juveniles arrested in Howard County, Ms. Fine said. She prosecuted 558 of those cases last year, up from the 320 cases she handled when she first started in 1989.

"But people [in Howard County] don't look look at it as serious," she said of juvenile crime. "Juveniles are really doing some serious crimes, and they have to be looked at.

"If we don't try and reach them, they become adult criminals."

In an effort to reduce juvenile crime in Howard County, Ms. Fine attends PTA meetings and gives lectures in middle and high schools. Some teens just don't believe anything will happen to them, she said.

"I tell them what I see," Ms. Fine said. "I tell them I see them cry and beg not to be locked up."

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