Mothers and babies face ouster

Court rules that successful alternative-to-prison program can close

April 20, 2006|By JULIE BYKOWICZ | JULIE BYKOWICZ,SUN REPORTER

Four women and their babies -- the last participants in an alternative-to-prison program called Tamar's Children -- will likely be forced to leave their residential treatment center tomorrow because of a court decision yesterday.

The Court of Special Appeals granted an emergency motion by the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services to temporarily stop a Baltimore circuit judge's order last week to keep Tamar's Children operating until July.

"This could not have been handled worse," said Irene Smith, a lawyer for the Maryland Disability Law Center, which represents the mothers in Tamar's Children.

Smith said the women in the program all are trauma victims and the news that in less than 48 hours they will be kicked out of what has been their home has traumatized them again.

It is not clear by when tomorrow the women will need to leave the St. Ambrose convent in the 4500 block of Park Heights Ave., where they have been living with their babies, but Smith said she is planning candlelight vigils and other protests.

Trash bags of clothing and baby toys lined the hallways of the convent yesterday. Women paced nervously with their babies, asking Smith questions about their future that she tearfully said she could not answer.

"It looks like we'll be out on the street," said Brenda Jones, 27, as she cradled her son yesterday.

Public safety officials have said that won't happen and that the women and their children will be moved to residential substance abuse treatment programs to complete the requirements of their probations.

"The end of the Tamar's Children program does not mean the end of appropriate healthcare and treatment services for any of the current clients," public safety officials said in a statement yesterday. They said they would analyze how best to treat pregnant inmates and would announce those findings by June 1.

The state's contract with Potomac Healthcare Foundation, one of two treatment providers for Tamar's Children, expires tomorrow, at which time its staff will leave the convent, a Potomac lawyer has said.

Richard Rosenblatt, who oversees medical treatment for the prison system, has said that fighting between Potomac and the other provider, Tamar Inc., has so frustrated Department of Public Safety officials that they decided this month to cancel the popular and well-regarded program.

But last week, Baltimore Circuit Judge Joseph H.H. Kaplan ordered that Tamar Inc. continue treating the women until July 1. The state appealed, and the emergency motion granted yesterday is a temporary measure until the Court of Special Appeals rules on the appeal of Kaplan's order.

Tamar's Children has treated about 50 women in its three years of operation, allowing some pregnant women convicted of nonviolent crimes to give birth in hospitals rather than in prison. Mothers and babies then live for six months at St. Ambrose and receive therapy that focuses on substance abuse and building parent-child bonds.

Program officials have boasted that only four Tamar graduates have been rearrested.julie.bykowicz@baltsun.com

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