Glen Burnie to try court for drug use Offenders will get option of enrolling in treatment program

February 02, 1997|By Consella A. Lee | Consella A. Lee,SUN STAFF

A new drug court making its debut in the Glen Burnie District courthouse is an alternative to the 1980s' lock-them-up style of fighting drugs and crime that has taken root across the country.

First tested in Miami eight years ago as an experiment with drug-abusing first offenders, drug courts have spread to about 30 other cities.

Prosecutors and treatment specialists tout them as the best way to halt drug abuse, which has led to increased crime in metropolitan areas and overburdened jails and prisons.

Now, Anne Arundel County is giving the idea a try and hopes to begin receiving defendants in about three weeks at its Glen Burnie Drug Court.

By June, it hopes to have helped 300 people with the $250,000 project.

"Here in District Court, so many of our defendants who come before us are strictly drug-related or influenced by drugs. Hopefully, through the drug court, what we can do is divert these people from the criminal justice system and get them away from drugs," said District Administrative Judge Joseph P. Manck.

Participation in the program is voluntary.

First-time offenders receive a letter from the state's attorney's office offering treatment instead of jail.

They also are given a list of providers and a time frame for receiving treatment.

Repeat offenders attend a preliminary inquiry three weeks after their arrest with legal counsel, an assistant state's attorney and a court assessor, who come up with a treatment plan.

After deliberation, repeat offenders go before a judge, who determines whether they may remain in the program.

In cases where the judge recommends treatment, the Drug Intervention Project helps with referrals, provides treatment for indigent offenders and monitors participation and compliance.

Participants are subject to frequent urinalysis and are called into court for regular status hearings.

Those who follow their treatment plan and are not rearrested within one year are not prosecuted by the state's attorney's office.

Not for every offender

The program will be open only to county adults who have no record of violent crime and no convictions for drug distribution or possession with intent to distribute drugs. Anyone charged with a violent crime or in possession of a gun when arrested will not be eligible.

"The name of success here is the person ultimately getting treatment and not coming back before the courts again," said H. Erle Schafer, a former state senator who will supervise the county's drug court program.

Schafer said his staff hopes to begin immediately reviewing cases going before a commissioner that might be eligible.

There "are a lot of people out there who do want treatment and haven't been able to get it, whether it's for monetary reasons or whatever," Schafer said.

Benefit for community

"The folks that are ultimately going to benefit from this project [are] the community," said Cathy Ness, an operations specialist with the county's addiction services. Ness is also chairwoman of the criminal council's subcommittee.

Manck said: "I'm really excited about it. I know everyone is excited about it from the state's attorney to the public defender. I think it has a heck of a shot. It's going to be a really tremendous tool we have to break that chain and get people off drugs. I'm not saying it's going to work for everyone. But it's a start."

Majority of cases

Anne Arundel County Detention Center officials estimated that 80 percent of the inmates there are serving time for drug-related convictions. County prosecutors say 85 percent of their cases involve drugs.

Local health and criminal justice officials have spent several years planning the Drug Intervention Project.

It is funded by a $183,847 federal grant and a $61,283 county matching grant.

The Glen Burnie version of the drug court has been inspired by two similar programs, one for first-time offenders and another for people charged with more than one crime, established several years ago in Annapolis by the state's attorney's office.

Worth the effort

It takes a lot of players to make a drug court work -- including administrative judges of Arundel's Circuit and District courts, representatives of the state's attorney's office, the public defender, heads of the county Parole and Probation Department and the county Detention Center and officials of the county Health Department and substance abuse agency.

But the effort is worth it, judges and others say.

"The idea of the drug court is a diversionary idea. It's to get people into treatment early and help them change their lives. Of course, if they don't change, they will be prosecuted," Administrative Circuit Judge Clayton Greene Jr. said.

"We're all looking for another solution, for another way of doing something about drugs," Greene said, "before everyone who touches drugs winds up in jail, and all we wind up doing is building more jails."

Pub Date: 2/02/97

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