Drug court for adults funded

Federal government awards $41,300 for scaled-down version

$4,589 in local funds added

Howard County

December 31, 2003|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

Howard County officials are moving forward with plans to start a scaled-back version of an adult drug court in Howard District Court, thanks to more than $40,000 in federal block grant funds.

The money will enable the county to pay the part-time salaries of a clinical case manager and a drug court coordinator - jobs that will allow the new court to handle a limited caseload of 10 to 15 defendants, starting in June, said Howard District Judge Louis A. Becker III, a member of the planning team.

Although not nearly enough to fund a full-scale drug court, the grant can help the county solve problems in its program on a small scale before any expansion, officials said.

"I think it makes sense for us to do it as a pilot effort," said Dr. Penny E. Borenstein, Howard's health officer. "We can develop all the policies and procedures, work out all the kinks and know what all the pitfalls are."

Official word of the grant was received this month, weeks after Howard County officials learned that they had not been awarded a much larger implementation grant by the federal Drug Court Discretionary Grant Program.

Howard had asked for $500,000 from that program, which selected 76 grant recipients for 2003, including juvenile drug courts in Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties, and had to alter its plans when the money wasn't awarded.

Officials had hoped to use the three-year grant to launch a District Court adult drug court that would quickly expand in numbers and lead to additional drug courts to serve other populations in Howard.

While limited, the new funding - $41,300 from the block grant and a $4,589 contribution from the county - will provide enough cash to get a small effort off the ground and, in the process, might place the county in a better position when it reapplies for the discretionary grant, officials said.

"There's no guarantee, but we've been told ... that having a program up and running usually puts you ahead of folks in the planning stages," Becker said.

Unlike a traditional court, where the time between a probation violation and court appearance might be lengthy, the drug court provides regular monitoring by a judge and immediate rewards for improvement - or sanctions for lapses.

"The whole theory of this, bottom line, is hopefully it eliminates some of the bottlenecks caused by the violation-of-probation system," Becker said.

Howard's application for the discretionary grant calls it a "nonadversarial" system that melds treatment with other services and aims to "graduate" offenders.

County officials have been studying drug courts for more than two years, since the treatment-intensive concept was proposed in a report that analyzed drug problems in Howard.

"The drug courts have proven to be much more of a deterrence for recidivism," said Howard Circuit Judge Lenore R. Gelfman, a member of the drug court planning team.

"What we have now is obviously not working ... for the majority of the offenders in the majority of the cases," she said.

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