Juvenile drug court program wins grant

$500,000 in federal funds goes to Balto. Co. effort

October 23, 2003|By Stephanie Hanes | Stephanie Hanes,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County will soon be able to expand its pilot juvenile drug court program into a countywide initiative, thanks to a $500,000 federal grant, county officials said yesterday.

The money from the Department of Justice comes as the program's first 10 teens are well into the drug court process. The county started the program early this year in an effort to steer youths arrested in nonviolent crimes from drugs and the justice system.

The grant, spread over three years, will enable the county to offer the drug court program to youths in the eastern and western areas, said Sheryl Goldstein, the county's criminal justice coordinator.

The 10 teens currently in the program, which has been funded with county money, are from the central area.

"We've gotten some calls from people in other parts of the county who are anxious to get their kids in," Goldstein said. "This grant gives us an opportunity to expand our reach."

Hundreds of juvenile drug courts operate across the country, including those in Baltimore City and Anne Arundel and Harford counties. While they differ slightly, they have the same goal: to catch teens before they are too deeply involved in the criminal justice system and to help them turn their lives around.

In Baltimore County, the teens who go into the juvenile drug court are "usually one step away from being committed to [the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School] or another institution," said Peter J. Lally, Baltimore County Circuit Court administrator.

After the juveniles enter the drug court, they start an intensive 12-month process, which involves curfew checks, twice-weekly drug testing, counseling, biweekly meetings with a judge and other tasks.

As a way to encourage good behavior, the youths are offered incentives such as fewer meetings with juvenile services officers and $10 gift certificates at Blockbuster.

"Each youth in the program has an individual treatment program," said Angela Shroyer, the county's newly appointed juvenile drug court coordinator.

Parents are key to the drug court system. They are responsible for getting their teens to a variety of appointments, have immediate access to addiction counselors and attend the biweekly meetings with the judge.

"The parents are really on board," Shroyer said. "That's something we hear week after week, that their own needs are being met. They can talk about successes, they can talk about the problems they are having with their kid -- they have an immediate ear."

The county launched its drug court program in March, after months of planning by various agencies involved in juvenile justice, such as the state's attorney's office, the public defender's office and the county's substance abuse bureau.

Baltimore County Circuit Judge Kathleen G. Cox sparked the initiative, other officials said, and presides over all the drug court cases.

The county had received two smaller grants this year, bringing the total in grants for the program to $698,146.

Goldstein said she hopes that the state Department of Juvenile Services will help fund drug court initiatives in the county.

She also said the county is looking for companies to sponsor prizes to reward good behavior by the teens.

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