Drug court program faulted Audit finds lapses of supervision in 'alternative' unit

September 24, 1997|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,SUN STAFF

Lapses of supervision and missing information taint a series of cases in the city's drug treatment court, one of the state's model criminal justice programs, an internal audit has found.

The Aug. 20 audit, reviewed this week by The Sun, is the latest examination of the Alternative Sentencing Unit, a Baltimore community supervision program that handles about a third of the drug treatment court cases.

Problems uncovered in the reviews have led to the reassignment of Thomas E. Kirk, administrator of the 8-year-old Alternative Sentencing Unit. Kirk started a new job Monday as head of a pretrial unit reviewing cases at the Central Booking and Intake Center.

The audit follows similar studies of other cases supervised by the Alternative Sentencing Unit, involving defendants with different types of crimes. Those reviews -- conducted after a Sun investigation found that offenders were being arrested for new crimes while in the program -- found widespread deficiencies in documentation, supervision of cases and management.

Kirk, through his lawyer, has blamed those problems on chronic staffing shortages. Bishop L. Robinson, secretary of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, denied such shortages were to blame. The lawyer, Howard Cardin, did not return a phone call yesterday.

The drug court audit was conducted by Christine D. Keels, a field supervisor for the Division of Parole and Probation. Keels has been appointed temporary administrator of the Alternative Sentencing Unit, Robinson said yesterday.

Baltimore's drug treatment court, one of more than 30 around the country, is a mixture of tough love and law enforcement. Because the program targets addicts, relapse is expected, to a point. Punishment is handed out on a progressive scale, with prison as the last resort if the addicts don't stay clean. The program is tailored to nonviolent offenders, whose crimes appear motivated by addiction.

The premise of the court -- that intense monitoring and treatment can make more of a difference than prison -- depends on frequent status conferences with judges, who ask for much more information about defendants than they would typically receive. Of about 337 drug treatment court cases, a third are supervised through the Alternative Sentencing Unit. The rest are handled by parole and probation agents.

Keels' audit examined only the Alternative Sentencing drug cases. Of 108 cases reviewed by the auditor, 46 -- about 43 percent -- required what she termed "urgent action." Other cases not included in that category also had problems, including a failure to document supervision.

In the worst cases, files lacked urinalysis-test result evaluations and slips documenting attendance at Narcotics Anonymous -- bTC indicators of a participant's success in the program. At times, it appeared caseworkers were not aware that offenders in their caseloads had been arrested again.

According to corrections officials familiar with Keels' findings, it was not clear whether caseworkers did not document their monitoring of defendants or whether they actually failed to do their required monitoring.

While saying he was "not pleased" with the findings, Robinson said they do not cast a pall over the drug court, which a preliminary study last year found effective in keeping those assigned to it from committing more crimes.

"I think it's a question of documentation," Robinson said. "But I do believe that there may have been some instances where the courts may not have been informed on matters which should have come to their attention."

Part of the problem, Keels wrote, was that case managers often received instructions from the administrator and the judges that conflicted with standard operating procedures. "Operating procedures appear to be constantly changed within DTC [drug treatment court]," she wrote.

Robinson said Kirk was reassigned by LaMont W. Flanagan, commissioner of pretrial detention and services, and would receive neither a demotion nor a decrease in pay. Flanagan was out of town yesterday and could not be reached for comment.

Said Robinson: "I believe Mr. Flanagan acted very judiciously and fairly and certainly had every reason to reassign Mr. Kirk. It's not disciplinary, it's a matter of changing his assignment. We certainly thank Mr. Kirk for his efforts."

Pub Date: 9/24/97

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