Drunken driver jail to operate without aid Struggling private facility has been denied state help to stem losses of $600,000

April 11, 1996|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

The operators of Baltimore County's privately run jail for drunken drivers say they will stay in business for now, despite the defeat of a General Assembly bill designed to help them break even financially.

"We're down about $600,000," said Charles C. Powell, one of two partners in Right Turn of Maryland, which runs the 100-bed Owings Mills jail and treatment facility. But if revenue does not increase in another year, he said, "We'll be in serious grief" -- raising the prospect that the program could be forced out of business.

The bill rejected by the legislature would have added $50 to the fines imposed on drunken drivers convicted in Baltimore County -- a users' fee of sorts that officials estimated would have raised more than $60,000 to support the private jail.

Without that help, the operators say they will continue to lose $60,000 to $120,000 a year.

Mr. Powell of Cambridge is a partner in the jail with Robert A. Pascal, a former Anne Arundel county executive and top aide to former Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

They say their key problem is resistance among judges to sending people for a 28-day stay at their facility, at a cost for each defendant of at least $1,820. About 770 people have been treated.

"The sad thing is there are a few judges who are really using us," Mr. Powell said -- judges whom defense lawyers try to avoid for their clients' cases.

Mr. Powell and Mr. Pascal say it is ironic and frustrating that the General Assembly declined to let Baltimore County impose a fine to support their program, while allowing Gov. Parris N. Glendening to spend $200,000 in taxpayer dollars for Prince George's County to reopen a publicly supported, 60-bed drunken driving jail that closed June 30 because of budget cuts.

Chief Maryland District Judge Robert F. Sweeney opposed the concept of imposing fines to support a profit-making business.

The Owings Mills facility was touted when it opened in September 1994 as an example of the move away from taxpayer-subsidized programs, but profit projections did not pan out, and many of the center's beds were left empty.

John Goings, executive director of the jail, said it had about 40 empty beds Tuesday. The jail had 31 paying inmates, and 30 other occupants who had completed their required 28-day stays but continued to live there, paying room-and-board of $600 a month.

Twenty-seven outpatients were receiving treatment. In addition, 100 people are in after-care programs, paying $25 per therapy session, and a few are sentenced to 48-hour weekend stays costing $250 each.

Current inmates include a 10-time and a six-time offender, both business owners who have paid fines but avoided jail in the past.

Mr. Goings said that judges do offenders no favor by giving them probation or a fine, or even by sending them to jail, where their disease isn't treated. Waiting until a drunken driver is a repeat offender causes more problems, not fewer, he said.

"By the time we do get folks in, they're so far into their disease they've lost their jobs, their house, their families," he said -- as well as their ability to pay for treatment.

Mr. Powell said the company has received about $200,000 in federal and state grants to pay for some patients who can't afford treatment.

Pub Date: 4/11/96

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