Drug court will reopen next month in Baltimore

Treatment program set to expand next year

July 26, 2000|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

A popular drug treatment program supervised by Baltimore judges will reopen its doors to criminal addicts next month and will expand next year, officials announced yesterday.

The drug court program stopped accepting new offenders in December because it was over capacity. Now, however, enough people have graduated from the program, which offers treatment instead of jail, and spots have opened up, said Circuit Judge Thomas E. Noel.

"We can now begin to resume treatment of seriously addicted criminal defendants," Noel said, adding that the decision to turn away offenders seeking treatment was difficult because some missed the chance to steer clear of jail and kick their habits. "The integrity of the program was being compromised because we had accepted more defendants than could be treated," Noel said.

The drug court will reopen Tuesday. Two judges will be allowed to send 16 new offenders into the program every month, officials said. There are now 550 offenders in the program, which is administered by city judges and probation agents. In January, the number of offenders had swelled to more than 700, though the program was designed for 600, court officials said.

"The court is pleased to again be in a position to provide a ... proven successful alternative to a continued life of crime," said Judge David B. Mitchell, chief of the city's criminal docket.

Drug court, set up in 1994, targets offenders deemed amenable to treatment. Offenders trade jail time for intensive monitoring that can last three years, Noel said. Offenders are brought into court about twice a month to have their treatment performance evaluated. If they are doing badly, the judge can jail them.

Early next year, Noel said, the program will be expanded. He said the city has funneled about $900,000 from state coffers to the court, which now has a budget of about $2.1 million. Six additional probation agents will be hired, Noel said, letting the program handle 850 offenders at once.

Key to the program, which has graduated more than 500 offenders and is widely praised for its success, is intense supervision by specially trained probation agents. Noel said judges want agents to handle about 40 cases at a time.

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