County wants to fine drunken drivers to support private jail Money would subsidize 100-bed facility for substance abusers

March 15, 1996|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County officials want to collect a $50 fine from drunken drivers and use the money to prop up a for-profit jail for substance abusers in Owings Mills a facility owned in part by a prominent former politician.

The fines collected from the county's drunken drivers would generate an estimated $60,000 annually to subsidize the 100-bed jail for alcohol and drug offenders, which has had trouble filling its places. One of the company's two main investors is Robert A. Pascal, a former Anne Arundel County executive and a top aide to William Donald Schaefer when he was governor.

Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III is pushing legislation in Annapolis to allow the county to levy the fine, which would be the first of its kind in the state. The measure won approval from the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee yesterday by a vote of 10-1 and goes to the full Senate for consideration.

Mr. Pascal said the $50 fine would be "a step in the right direction" for his enterprise.

"It's a new concept. We're trying to get it off the ground," he said of the jail. Mr. Pascal said he eventually would like to see the fine implemented statewide to benefit treatment programs around the state.

The strongest critic of the legislation is Chief District Judge Robert F. Sweeney. "It is not good public policy to use the courts to impose a fine to be handed over to a profit-making enterprise," Judge Sweeney said.

But Mr. Ruppersberger said he had "absolutely" no concern about using court fines to help a privately owned business.

"Government's always in partnership with business," Mr. Ruppersberger said. "The more the better. It's a very good program."

He added: "We're just trying to find a way to help the facility without using government money."

Officials say judges are not sentencing adequate numbers of people to the jail because its treatment costs are too expensive for many offenders. The minimum cost of a 28-day stay at the facility is $1,820, according to county officials.

"The facility has never been fully utilized due to the burdensome fee structure," county officials said in a statement presented recently to the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

The money generated by the drunken driving fines would allow the facility to take in some offenders who otherwise could not afford treatment, program officials said.

"This would afford the opportunity for some folks to at least get in the door and get some treatment," said John Goings, executive director of the jail.

Mr. Pascal and Cambridge businessman Charles C. Powell are partners in the company that operates the facility, Right Turn of Maryland.

Sen. Norman R. Stone, a Democrat representing the Dundalk area, said he and the rest of the county's senators support the bill. "It's a laudable purpose," Mr. Stone said. "This is a good facility."

In yesterday's committee action, Sen. Walter M. Baker cast the lone "no" vote, saying the government shouldn't subsidize treatment for drunken drivers.

"If a guy's got enough money to go get drunk, he has enough money to pay for treatment," said Mr. Baker, a Cecil County Democrat and the committee chairman.

Pub Date: 3/15/96

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