Governor offers Baltimore $13.4 million to help curb drug abuse, gun violence

O'Malley cheers aid, though he sought more

April 01, 2000|By Timothy B. Wheeler and M. Dion Thompson | Timothy B. Wheeler and M. Dion Thompson,SUN STAFF

Gov. Parris N. Glendening announced a two-pronged aid package for Baltimore yesterday, promising $13.4 million to expand drug treatment, unclog the beleaguered criminal justice system and fight gun violence.

Though the package is far less than what city officials had sought, Mayor Martin O'Malley said it was the result of a persistent and hard-fought campaign to address "the crisis that's killing our city."

"It's great," he said. "It's three times more than we would have gotten" without the lobbying, he said.

The governor said he will include an additional $8 million for city drug treatment programs in a supplemental budget to be given to legislators today. The budget also will include $5.4 million for hiring more prosecutors, public defenders and court personnel. The bulk of that would pay for a case review program O'Malley wants.

If approved by the General Assembly, Glendening's proposal will increase funding for drug treatment by 42 percent statewide, raising it from $44 million to $62.5 million.

"This additional $18.5 million in direct aid for drug treatment over the next year is a historic investment that will help rescue drug abusers and their families and communities from the ravages of addiction and crime," Glendening said.

Baltimore's share of the new treatment funds -- $8 million -- would be roughly a third of the $25 million increase many city officials had said was necessary to reduce a backlog of addicts who often wait weeks or months for openings in treatment programs.

"We need twice as much as we received," said Del. Salima S. Marriott, head of the city's House delegation. "But we appreciate what we got because we can do more with that."

Dr. Peter Beilenson, the city's health commissioner, agreed with Marriott's assessment. "Eight million is a nice first step, but we clearly need more," he said.

City officials estimated they needed $25 million to provide enough slots so that every addict who seeks help or is ordered into treatment can get it within 24 hours.

The city spends about $26 million on 42 treatment programs, about twice what was spent four years ago. About 6,600 treatment slots are available, serving up to 18,000 people a year. An estimated 60,000 city residents are addicted to drugs or alcohol, according to the state health department.

State Public Defender Stephen E. Harris said he was "very satisfied" with the $1.6 million his office would receive for the case disposition program to be run out of the city jail.

The program, the result of an intense struggle between the mayor and city court officials, is scheduled to start July 1. It calls for disposing of minor cases within 24 hours of arrest.

The governor's package also includes $700,000 for renovations to the Central Booking courtroom and more than $600,000 to hire support staff and correctional officers to transport prisoners.

The state's attorney's office would get $1 million to hire prosecutors and other staff for a program aimed at curbing gun violence in the city.

"I have to say I'm encouraged by this. This is definitely a step in the right direction," said John H. Lewin Jr., chairman of the city's Criminal Justice Coordinating Council.

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