Sanctions, tests keys to drug plan Probationers testing positive would face possible jail time

25,000 users targeted

Statewide program could cost up to $5 million a year

December 04, 1997|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

The Glendening administration plans to launch an anti-drug initiative that would require about 25,000 drug users who are on probation in Maryland to be tested as often as twice a week and face such sanctions as community service and jail if they test positive.

The administration's Break the Cycle of Crime and Addiction program, which could cost as much as $5 million a year, is part of the state's effort to strengthen Maryland's parole and probation operation, which officials say is the key to reducing recidivism and avoiding the need to construct more jails and prisons.

"Over 50 percent of the cocaine and heroin is used by those on parole and probation," said Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who is leading the project for the administration. "When we attack that issue with a concrete strategy of sanctions and treatment, we can have a big impact."

Officials plan to formally announce the anti-drug initiative tomorrow and have scheduled a conference next week, to be attended by representatives of all jurisdictions and the federal government, to discuss the details. Such programs are becoming popular approaches to resolving problems with addictions and criminal activity.

"More and more people are finding that coercion in the form of immediate sanctions is very effective," said Adele Harrell, director of the Program on Law and Behavior at the Urban Institute, a nonprofit research group in Washington.

Harrell, who has been studying Washington's effort and other such programs, said it was believed in the past that motivating drug users rather than punishing them was the way to break their addictions. That approach has failed, she said, and the public has suffered.

"For years, people have thought we have had a much better control of probationers than we have," Harrell said. Those on probation "are likely to be the heavy users. They certainly are likely to be responsible for your property and drug crimes."

Officials in Maryland have been looking at drug-testing programs in the District of Columbia and Oregon while developing their own system. Results of the other programs suggested that regular testing and immediate sanctions can help prevent offenders from returning to their drug habits.

In Coos County, Ore., the rate of positive urinalysis among those on probation dropped 76 percent after the imposition of short jail terms for violators. In Washington, the recidivism rate of those on probation who were regularly tested and punished for violations was half that of those who received treatment alone.

Officials in Washington have established a system of graduated sanctions that begin, for those testing positive for drugs the first time, with three days in a jury box to hear cases against other people accused of drug violations.

A second positive drug test means three days in jail; a third positive test results in seven days in detoxification; and a fourth violation is punished with seven days in jail.

Maryland wants to establish a similar program, funded by the state and federal governments, for each jurisdiction. That would require more money than is currently being spent on drug-testing programs, public safety officials said.

The Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services spends about $500,000 a year on such programs, said spokesman Leonard A. Sipes. It could cost $1.5 million to $5 million a year to implement an intensive statewide drug-testing program.

Under the governor's program, each jurisdiction must develop its own plan by April 1 and implement it by July 1. The state could withhold or cut funds for those that fail to do so, officials said.

The federal government has given a similar order to states, requiring them to have drug-testing programs in state prisons or lose money for prison construction.

"By constantly hammering on the offender we should be able to have an impact," Sipes said. "If we don't hold the offender accountable, we are not going to win the war on drugs."

Part of the problem in Maryland is that 45 percent of the approximately 25,000 offenders who have been referred to drug-treatment programs -- ranging from structured narcotics anonymous groups to inpatient treatment -- complete them, officials said.

In Baltimore, a third of those enrolled in drug-treatment programs complete them, officials said.

In addition, it can take a week or more to get results of a drug test. An offender must then be arrested and might have to wait 60 days more before appearing in court, officials said.

Criminal justice officials want the offenders to get regular drug treatment and to face immediate sanctions if they continue to use drugs.

High-tech testing programs being developed in Baltimore are a key to making the program work. A laboratory at the state parole and probation office, in the 2100 block of Guilford Ave., has high-tech equipment that performs a facial and fingerprint scan to identify a person and tests a urine sample.

Within an hour, officials have a result of the drug test. That system will be fully operational by Feb. 1.

"If there's a sanction to be imposed, it could be done before the guy leaves the building," said Adam Gelb, an assistant to Townsend.

Pub Date: 12/04/97

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