Carroll to inaugurate drug court this week

Focus will be on quick intervention for abusers

April 08, 2007|By Arin Gencer | Arin Gencer,Sun Reporter

This Friday, Judge Michael M. Galloway of the Carroll County Circuit Court is scheduled to take the bench as usual, but he will be presiding over a different kind of court.

An adult drug treatment court is coming to Carroll, geared toward the county's nonviolent offenders with consistent substance-abuse problems. Described by many as intensive, with regular and frequent monitoring, the program tailors treatment and services to individuals, and then places responsibility on them to reduce and eventually eliminate their drug use.

"The biggest thing the drug court brings to the treatment process ... is to respond immediately when people stumble or slip or relapse," as opposed to waiting months for a hearing, Galloway said.

The court also gives judges another option for sentencing, said Assistant State's Attorney Edward Coyne.

Judges could refer offenders to the program instead of imposing jail time when dealing with plea negotiations, violations of probation and sentence modifications. If the defendants successfully complete the program, the court could suspend their jail sentence, put them on probation or end all supervision.

"We're very excited to begin," said Diane Jackson, the court's coordinator. She said the drug court will be held the second and fourth Fridays of the month.

While offenders who go through the county detention center "do well for a while," she said, "they don't have that support system, and then they come back."

But the adult drug treatment court is designed to support addicts' efforts to kick the habit, with random drug and alcohol testing every week, a curfew and regular contact with a case manager. Sanctions will be quick and timely, Jackson said, and could possibly include a weekend in jail or increased treatment services. Participants would also have incentives for doing well, she added.

The program is looking for 50 participants in its first year, Jackson said. Those individuals would go through four phases: a 30-day orientation period, followed by minimum 60-, 120- and 180-day periods of consecutive clean time.

Carroll's will be the 34th operational drug court in Maryland.

The first was launched in Baltimore City District Court in 1994, said Gray Barton, executive director of the state's Office of Problem-Solving Courts. About 10 new courts are expected to start up in the next year, Barton said.

"What we've done as a society in the past has not worked. ... Drug courts bring the whole weight of the bench as well as the collaboration of key stakeholders," Barton said, referring to local treatment providers, health providers and attorneys. "The individual knows that he or she has to come in front of the judge every couple weeks and discuss their progress or lack of progress."

His belief that incarceration cannot solve substance-abuse problems led Warden George Hardinger of the Carroll County Sheriff's Office to suggest exploring the drug-treatment court option in a behavioral health and addictions council meeting last year.

The more he looked into it, Hardinger said, the more he felt "this is something that we need to seriously pursue."

When Barton told him grant money was available, Hardinger said he contacted the necessary people - including representatives from the court, the state's attorney's office and law enforcement - to discuss developing a grant proposal.

The $131,000 grant received from Barton's office runs through June 30, Jackson said.

While Coyne and others in the state's attorney's office said they were open to the program, they expressed cautious optimism as they wait to see how the concept takes root in Carroll.

"Obviously, we have concerns," said David Daggett, deputy state's attorney, adding that it is important to ensure the right people get into the program. "We serve the victims, so we have to look out for them, but at the same time, we have to look long-term at the big picture."

Galloway said the court seemed to fit his personal belief in the need to seek treatment for nonviolent drug offenders.

"It's more effective in terms of cost, it's more effective in terms of reducing recidivism," Galloway said.

Galloway and others said they estimate the majority of the cases on the typical day's criminal docket involve drugs or alcohol, whether it's the underlying cause - as in some domestic violence cases - or the principal reason.

"It's a pervasive problem," he said.

Ideally, the drug court would help alleviate that problem, Hardinger said.

"We've been blindly going down this road for too long," Hardinger said. "I'm convinced that incarceration is not the answer for addiction."

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