Funding request for court rejected

$500,000 federal grant could have started project for adult drug offenders

October 29, 2003|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

Howard County's bid to start an adult drug court in District Court will have to do without a hoped-for $500,000 jump-start from a federal grant program.

Howard was not among the 49 court systems and jurisdictions nationwide, including Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties, that recently learned they would receive start-up money for new intensive, rehabilitation-focused courts for offenders charged with drug-related crimes, federal officials said this week.

The Drug Court Discretionary Grant Program handed out 76 grants this year, some to support older drug courts, and attracted 353 applicants - a 20 percent increase from last year, federal officials said.

The Anne Arundel County and Baltimore County grants for $440,451 and $500,000, respectively, were for juvenile courts that both jurisdictions recently implemented.

"Just because an applicant did not get funding doesn't mean it's not a good program," said Linda Mansour, a Justice Department spokeswoman. "It was very competitive."

For Howard, the news was a setback to efforts to create a full-fledged court. But county and court officials said they remain committed to the concept and have been actively looking for other sources of funding.

They said they hope to implement a smaller-scale effort without the grant money, which would have been disbursed over three years.

Howard District Judge Louis A. Becker III, a member of a team that has spent two years developing the drug court concept for the county, said yesterday that he was "disappointed" by the news. But he believes the study and discussion of the past few years have been "healthy," he said.

"I've always looked at this ... as a worthwhile exercise for the county and courts to look at judicial and treatment aspects for addiction problems in Howard County," he said.

Howard's effort is among 14 in the planning stages in Maryland, which has nine juvenile and adult drug courts operating in five jurisdictions, said Gray Barton, executive director of the Maryland Drug Treatment Court Commission.

The juvenile courts in Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties began operating before officials applied for the grants, and that fact may have helped their funding efforts, Barton said.

"What it shows ... is this program can sustain itself," he said. It also gives communities a chance to "work out the bugs beforehand."

Barton also noted that the Baltimore County court's funding efforts targeted "nontraditional" sources without banking on what he called "the golden egg" - the federal drug court grant program.

"It's really being creative with what you have and what's out there," he said.

Howard's drug court efforts began more than two years ago, after a report on a comprehensive look at drug problems in the county recommended the specialized, treatment-intensive concept.

The county narrowed its options to what seemed most feasible - a program that targeted adults and would be housed in the District Court, which had more room than the cramped Circuit Court building down the road. County officials have said they hope to expand to other courts.

By the time the grant program was posted for the year, officials had worked out enough of the logistics to apply.

The application detailed the setup of a Howard court, which would have 25 to 35 active cases to start, the costs of the program and how treatment, supervision and monitoring would be handled.

The number of cases in District Court would eventually reach 120 to 130.

It also explained what it called a "nonadversarial system," with various phases of treatment and supervision levels designed to "graduate" offenders after about 9 1/2 months.

Without the federal discretionary grant money, Becker said that a scaled-down effort might be able to handle 10 or 15 cases.

Tom Cargiulo, the county's substance abuse services director, said even a smaller effort would require finding ways to "better utilize the existing resources we have" to manage the caseload.

"The potential is there," he said. "It's a matter of can we actually do this and making sure everyone involved is willing to do it."

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