First graduates finish drug-court program in Anne Arundel County to treat users Probation before judgment granted for completion

September 18, 1997|By Consella A. Lee | Consella A. Lee,SUN STAFF

For his graduation, Alexander Sade got a certificate and probation before judgment.

Sade, 28, a concrete mixer from Arnold, is among the first graduates of Anne Arundel County's drug court, a tough-love program aimed at treating, rather than incarcerating, drug users.

On his graduation day Tuesday, he stood speechless in a District Court room in Annapolis, enjoying the applause of Judge Joseph P. Manck and an audience of about 80.

"It felt good," Sade said. "It makes you feel good."

Sade was arrested in May on charges of possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia. Like others in the program, which started in February, he pleaded guilty, received a suspended sentence and was put in a treatment program to help him kick his habit.

On completion of the program, his guilty plea was wiped out, and he was given probation before judgment. A year from now, his record will be clean, provided he stays out of trouble.

Anne Arundel's drug court is one of about 200 in 40 states nationwide, said Marc Pearce, chief of staff for the National Association of Drug Court Professionals in Alexandria, Va.

The courts use "crisis situations" to motivate people, he said.

"The judge is kind of the lever that pushes the person to become attentive until they learn that this is a better way to live," Pearce said.

Baltimore's drug court has been in operation since 1994 and has 150 graduates, said Thomas H. Williams, executive assistant director of the state's Division of Parole and Probation.

A 1996 study by the University of Maryland showed that drug court graduates have improved chances of not committing new crimes and that 75 percent of Baltimore's graduates stayed out of trouble for at least six months.

Anne Arundel's program, funded by $245,000 in federal and county grants, accepts only those with no record of violent crime and no convictions for drug distribution or possession with intent to distribute drugs.

Of 320 people screened for the program, 99 have been admitted, said H. Erle Schafer, program supervisor.

Two have graduated, and "probably three or less" have been kicked out, Schafer said.

"We try our best to hold them in," he said. "We're trying to get people weaned off of drugs. We're trying to help."

The court screens participants on Tuesdays and holds progress hearings on Thursdays.

On a recent Thursday, men and women from ages 22 to 54, some employed, others jobless, appeared before Judge James W. Dryden.

Sara J. King told Dryden, "I'm 34, and my father and mother did not raise me to be this way. It's a little late in life, but I'll get a chance, though."

King was arrested in May on charges of trying to purchase crack cocaine from Annapolis police Detective Gregory Kimball during an undercover drug operation in the Bywater community, a well-known open air drug market.

King told Dryden she was doing well and praised her counselor, Brian Elzey. "He is so great," she said. "He let's you know you can't pull the wool over his eyes. And he's cute, too."

After his graduation, Sade discussed the raid at his brother's house in which police arrested him, two older brothers and three others.

"I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time," he said. "That's why the judge isn't putting this on my record, and he's waiving the court costs and fine."

The success of the program will be judged on whether Sade and other graduates stay out of trouble. Part of the money for the program will be used to track the graduates.

"If we all just feel good because people are in the program and coming through the court and the recidivism rate doesn't change, then we're not being very productive," Dryden said.

Pub Date: 9/18/97

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