State drug-testing initiative getting results, study finds

Drug use, rearrests drop for parolees, probationers

January 19, 2000|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

A mandatory drug-testing program launched by the state in 1998 is showing promising results in cutting drug use and rearrests among criminal offenders, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend told a legislative panel yesterday.

Townsend pointed to a study showing that Break the Cycle, an initiative she helped launch, had yielded a 53 percent decline in positive drug tests among 19,500 parolees and probationers assigned to the program for two months or more.

The University of Maryland study also showed a 23 percent decrease in the number of rearrests of offenders in the program -- 10.6 percent compared to 13.8 percent before the program was launched.

`Encouraging'

"These are initial results, but they're very encouraging," Townsend said. "With any new initiative, it takes a while to get up and running and for all the kinks to be worked out of it."

Faye S. Taxman, who conducted the study, agreed that early results suggest the state might be on the right track. "There are some positive indicators that they are moving in the right direction," Taxman said.

Del. Peter Franchot, chairman of a House subcommittee that oversees the criminal justice budget, said the results were "very striking."

Typically, drugs tests administered to parolees and probationers turn out positive in about 34 percent of cases. The Break the Cycle program managed to cut that to 16 percent after two months of twice-a-week testing, Taxman said. She said the declines bottom out at that point but continue to hold steady for as long as six months.

The report shows that the number of offenders failing to show up for scheduled tests dropped from about 33 percent at the beginning of the program to about 14 percent.

Program started in 1998

Under the Break the Cycle program introduced in October 1998, all offenders in the program who are on parole and probation are required to undergo routine drug testing. The state had previously been testing only about 5 percent of those on parole or probation. The program relies on aggressive follow-up by parole and probation agents to see that offenders show up for testing and on a series of escalating sanctions for positive test results.

Taxman's study found that the program has fallen short of its goals in applying sanctions. She said that in 10 percent to 20 percent of cases, agents did not respond to an offender's positive drug test or failure to appear.

Townsend acknowledged there were still "challenges" facing the program. She said the administration plans to reform the parole and probation program and to raise the pay and reduce the caseload of agents.

The $2.9 million-a-year Break the Cycle initiative operates in seven jurisdictions, including Baltimore City and Baltimore, Prince George's and Montgomery counties.

The governor's budget proposal released yesterday does not call for an expansion of the program next year, but an aide to Townsend held open the possibility of seeking additional funds during the legislative session.

Stuart O. Simms, secretary of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, has said the state plans to expand the program to 25,000 offenders with a history of drug abuse.

Assembly hearings

The Sun is offering free fax delivery of Maryland General Assembly hearing schedules again this year. To use this service, you must have a fax machine capable of answering the phone automatically.

To subscribe to the service, call SunDial at 410-783-1800 and enter Code 6290. You'll be asked to leave your name, fax number and a daytime phone number. If you subscribed to the service last year, you must subscribe again this year to receive the schedules.

For a list of SunDial numbers in surrounding counties, see Page 2B.

Hearing schedules for the next week will be faxed every Friday night starting this week.

If you have an Internet connection, updated schedules are available every day on the General Assembly's Web site. Point your Web browser to http: //mlis.state.md.us.

In Annapolis

Today's highlights:

House of Delegates meets. 11: 45 a.m. House chamber.

Senate meets. 11: 30 a.m. Senate chamber.

State of the State. Gov. Parris N. Glendening addresses joint session of the Maryland General Assembly. Noon. House chamber.

Senate and House committees briefing on education initiatives. 3 p.m. Legislative Services Building, Joint Hearing Room.

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