County drug court urged

Task force hears residents' support at public meeting

Howard County

October 31, 2001|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,SUN STAFF

Howard County, with its socieconomically diverse population and location between two major cities, is an ideal place for a drug court, several residents told members of the Howard County Drug Treatment Task Force at a public meeting yesterday evening.

"Many parents here cover up their children's drug problems because of their high socioeconomic status," Karen Speights-Diggs, a Columbia resident, said during the meeting.

"They say, `It's only marijuana' or `It's only one time' when their kids get in trouble. They're not taking ownership of the problem."

Speights-Diggs has done extensive research for the Maryland State Police on drugs and was a county bail hearing commissioner for eight months last year.

As a commissioner, Speights-Diggs said she "routinely saw parents denying their kids' drug use."

"And these are the same people who want all drug offenders locked up," she said after the meeting. "They don't realize that it's their children who are the drug users."

Speights-Diggs was among the half-dozen county residents - all of whom have professional expertise on drug addiction - who gathered for the drug court task force's first public hearing. Another meeting is planned for the end of next month in Savage, said Howard County State's Attorney Marna L. McLendon, a task force member.

"It's very, very difficult to get people to come out for meetings, but that doesn't mean they're not interested in having a drug court," McLendon said, adding that she was glad to hear from people with experience working with drug courts and county residents who might use them.

Speaking on why Howard County should have a drug court, along with Speights-Diggs, were Jennifer Beskid, a Columbia resident who is juvenile drug court coordinator for Baltimore; Columbia resident Linda Doty, who has 30 years of experience in the substance abuse field; and several others.

"I'm grateful to live in a community where we have neighbors like this who have such a wealth of knowledge," McLendon said after the meeting.

Six of the 22 task force members attended the public hearing. Among them were Jesse K. Smith, Howard County's anti-drug coordinator and a retired principal; Marilyn Manson, director of the Howard County Health Department's Bureau of Addictions; and Patricia Flanigan, Howard County supervisor for the Maryland Department of Juvenile Justice.

Each, either during the meeting or afterward, advocated implementing a drug court in the county.

"But we'd never set something up for failure," McLendon said. "There are certain resources we need to have in place."

For one, she said, Howard County does not have a central intake for residents dealing with substance abuse problems. That would need to be addressed before a drug court could be established, McLendon said.

The task force will continue to research drug courts and probably will make a formal recommendation in late December, McLendon said.

Funded by a Horizon Foundation grant, the task force began its research in March and has toured several drug courts in New York and in the Baltimore area in the past few months.

"There are some core components at each one. Most are hybrid courts and treatment centers," McLendon said. "But there are different models occurring everywhere, which is really exciting. We have a lot of options."

Task force members visited Midtown Community Court in Manhattan, the drug court in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, N.Y., the Baltimore drug courts and the courts in Harford County.

"We believe Harford is a nice jurisdiction to be looking at because it's fairly comparable to ours, both in size and in that it's in Maryland,` McLendon said.

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