Congressmen seeking new ideas to fight drugs

Cummings, Kucinich applaud city's efforts to cut abuse, crime

October 02, 2007|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,Sun reporter

Two congressional leaders held a hearing at the University of Maryland School of Law yesterday to learn more about Baltimore's drug treatment and violence reduction programs.

Democratic Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio, the chairman of the House Domestic Policy Subcommittee and a candidate in the Democratic presidential primary, and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, who represents Baltimore's 7th District called the hearing.

Cummings is a 1976 graduate of the University of Maryland School of Law. After taping a copy of the official seal of the U.S. House of Representatives on the dais in a mock court room, he proclaimed: "This is your government in action. We are here to hear testimony on these excellent programs, and we hope to do something legislatively to carry them throughout the country."

FOR THE RECORD - A photo caption on Page 3B of yesterday's editions of The Sun incorrectly identified a hearing on drug abuse as having taken place at the University of Baltimore Law School. The hearing was at the University of Maryland School of Law.
THE SUN REGRETS THE ERROR

Kucinich recalled a similar hearing five years ago in Baltimore. He said the city's crime problem had resulted in the creation of innovative programs, and that members of Congress were eager to learn about them. New legislation and funding sources could be created as a result of information shared at the hearing.

"Breaking the cycle of drug addiction and violence in Baltimore and other cities is an immense, but not insurmountable, task," said Kucinich, who applauded Baltimore for its efforts to cut crime despite a recent increase in homicides. As of Monday afternoon, the city had reported 231 homicides, 22 more than at the same time last year.

Cummings, who has advocated for increased drug treatment and crime-fighting funding in Washington, said that he was a resident of Baltimore's "inner-inner city," and that he knew firsthand the effects of the drug culture on residents. He said he had seen young men and women "seduced" by the drug industry and "whole generations" destroyed as a result of addiction to heroin and cocaine.

"I find it unconscionable that we are spending billions of dollars to fight a war while we fail to address terrorism right here in our own backyard," Cummings said.

Lena Franklin, the director of Recovery in Community Inc., a drug treatment program that does outreach in three Southwest Baltimore neighborhoods, said in-patient drug treatment was not enough. She said that recovering addicts also require help finding housing, as well as mending ties with their families. Franklin said that public officials should view drug addiction like any other disease and dedicate the resources necessary to see addicts all the way through the recovery process.

"We have to realize that relapse is part of [the recovery process]," Franklin said. "We need to let people know that they are not a failure if that happens."

Sheryl Goldstein, director of the Mayor's Office on Criminal Justice, said the city needs funding to provide one-stop centers for recovering drug addicts and ex-offenders. She said that it is too difficult for some former addicts to navigate the social services system.

"If we send them to five different places, they won't get there," Goldstein said.

Leon Faruq, who heads up Operation Safe Streets East, said his group is out on the streets some nights until 2 a.m. trying to get young men to resolve street disputes in a nonviolent manner. Faruq said that recently he and his outreach workers were able to persuade two rival groups to put down their guns when there was an argument over a stolen stash of drugs.

Associate District Judge Jamey H. Weitzman said a truancy court run by the University of Baltimore Law School helps to keep youths in school and out of jail.

She said she recently encountered a young man who skipped school often, and whenever he didn't go to class, neither did his younger sister. She said that the truancy program could help both children.

The truancy court is not an official court, but it is staffed with real judges who volunteer to work with parents and students to resolve truancy issues.

"Make no mistake - these programs are not easy," she said. "They demand constant judicial supervision."

lynn.anderson@baltsun.com

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