Juvenile drug court set up in county

Offenders to get treatment, counseling, educational assistance

March 05, 2003|By Jarrett Carter | Jarrett Carter,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County has established a juvenile drug court, a program designed to rehabilitate young offenders.

The court will closely monitor offenders while providing drug treatment, educational assistance and counseling, said County Executive James T. Smith Jr.

"This has been a priority for the county because it is so significant and so important," said Smith, who announced the initiative at a news conference in Towson yesterday. "The human benefit of the program is just tremendous."

The program is the first in the county. Baltimore became the first jurisdiction in Maryland to have a juvenile drug court in 1998. Harford established its juvenile drug court in 2001, and Anne Arundel did last year.

Baltimore County Police Department figures show drug arrests have increased by 7.2 percent during the past 11 years. In 2001, more than 30 percent of all marijuana arrests involved juveniles. The police figures also show that juveniles account for more than 20 percent of all drug arrests in the county.

"A lot of juveniles are incarcerated, and that perpetuates the problem," said County Councilman Kenneth N. Oliver. "This program lets the different branches of government and county officials work together, which is what they are supposed to do."

Juveniles convicted of crimes other than violent assaults or sex offenses are eligible for the program, which will be evaluated after a year, Smith said. The program is divided into four, three-month phases, during which Circuit Court judges and juvenile masters track the progress of each offender.

"After a mental health and educational assessment, the participant must make court appearances, which can be twice a month," said Baltimore County Circuit Judge Kathleen Cox. "There is also random drug testing, which can occur twice a week."

The juvenile must also participate in individual and group therapy sessions, and maintain good academic standing. Failure to do so could result in sanctions being imposed by the court.

After the first six months, treatment is gradually reduced, and more of the responsibility for rehabilitation is placed on the individual.

"Every child progresses at their own rate," said John Fullmer, coordinator of the juvenile drug court in Anne Arundel County. "I would say treatment can be as short as nine months, or as long as 18 months. Each program deals with different treatment as well as a different population of kids."

In its first year of operation, three juveniles stayed in the Anne Arundel drug court for the full year and graduated.

Experts in the field say that while juvenile drug courts around the country can be effective, some participants leave before completing the program.

Whether youths remain can depend on whether a program has adequate or individualized services, said Caroline Cooper, director of a drug court clearinghouse at American University.

The drug court also will benefit county taxpayers. The cost is expected to be between $3,000 and $5,000 per juvenile, per year, according to the county. That contrasts with nearly $10,000 per year for juvenile detention and other related expenses.

"This is a win-win situation for everyone involved," said Col. William A. Kelly Jr., head of the county Police Department's human services bureau. "We're getting the best of both worlds, with the reduction in the costs of incarceration as well as law enforcement and court officials working together to make a difference."

The juvenile drug court is expected to serve about 25 youths in its first year.

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