Starting this fall, Anne Arundel County Judge Michael E. Loney will be asking selected felons which they prefer - a jail cell or drug treatment program. With a $120,000 grant, the county's Circuit Court is gearing up to begin a drug court as early as next month.
The program is for nonviolent felons, people whose crimes - such as drug possession and shoplifting - boil down to their drug addictions. It mixes long-term treatment, a carrot-and-stick approach to leaving drugs behind and more intense monitoring of individuals.
"This is not going to be a touchy-feely diversionary court. I've said all along this is going to be tough love," said Loney, who lobbied hard for adult drug court and will be its judge.
This is the county's third drug-treatment court. One runs in District Court for adults charged with minor crimes. Another is for children up to age 18.
The Circuit Court program will deal "with a deeper-end offender," said John Fullmer, who oversees drug treatment programs in the court.
Drug-addicted felons a step away from jail or prison because they violated their probation with continued drug use are the target of this program.
Typically, they have several years of a suspended sentence hanging over them if they don't comply with the terms of probation.
Those who choose to sign on might have a lot to lose because flunking out means Loney is prepared to incarcerate them.
But, Loney said, those who are motivated stay out of jail and can reclaim their lives.
They will get a personalized drug treatment plan and drug testing up to several times a week, see Loney at least twice a month, work with a case manager and get help with job training and finding work. That is on top of seeing a probation officer.
Plans call for finding about 50 drug users who are willing to cooperate in a year or more of treatment under these terms. There will be small rewards for making progress and prompt punishment for relapses.
The drug court has the Health Department, prosecutors, defense lawyers and others participating.
The grant comes from the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention and can be renewed. The allocation is being used to hire a case manager, pay for drug testing and help cover startup costs, Fullmer said. The court also is seeking a $450,000 federal grant.
Drug courts are gaining popularity, with about 1,200 in operation nationally. The first one in the country opened in 1989. Baltimore City District Court had the first in Maryland in 1994. There are about two dozen in the state.