By Glynis Kazanjian
A Baltimore City judge who set up the state’s first drug court is trying to launch a nonprofit group to help support the services for drug addicts like Clinton Worrell, on heroin for 20 years.
“The program helped me get back to being a person and not an animal,” said Worrell, 46, of Baltimore. This month he will graduate from adult drug court and move to New Jersey to begin work at Campbell’s Soup Company, “hopefully in shipping and handling.”
Baltimore City District Court Judge Jamey Hueston founded the first adult drug treatment court in Maryland 17 years ago. The program offers habitual law-breaking drug addicts the choice of entering a voluntary, long-term drug rehabilitation program run by the court over going to prison.
1,000 graduates of the program
The program has graduated 1,000 drug addicts since it began in 1994. Most of its participants have been addicted to heroin or cocaine for periods ranging from 10 to 30 years. Many have lost contact with their families, become homeless and committed crimes to feed their daily habit, which Hueston says can cost about $50 to $250 per day.
“There are many issues with addiction. You cannot just treat addiction,” Hueston said to a room full of guests last week to view a “Day in the Life’ of a Problem-Solving Court.” “We need incentives to encourage positive behavior. We are trying to develop scholarship funds, help with housing needs and enhance the graduation ceremonies.”
The program provides individualized services to participants, including home placement, job training, counseling and help with obtaining health insurance and legal identification, such as a driver’s license. Each participant has a support network which consists of a case manager, a probation agent and a variety of personnel to rely upon for their individual needs.
Self empowerment and personal responsibility are ingrained in the program’s philosophy.
“Every day is not going to be a good day and you have to learn how to handle those days,” Worrell said. “As challenges come up, now I’m not running from them. I’m going to deal with them.”
Not a cookie-cutter approach
Hueston said the program would not be successful without staff supporting the individual needs of each participant. “Drug courts are not cookie cutters. The roles staff play are not traditional. I rely heavily on their advice. We’re a team,” the judge said.
In the beginning, program participants meet twice a week with their case managers and twice a month with a judge. They report regularly to a probation officer and have to attend drug counseling seven days a week. The program usually lasts between 12 and 15 months.
“Steps are the way up and out,” said Clyde Tatum, a program participant who had been addicted to heroin and cocaine for 40 years. “I can’t do it alone. I need my network. Over time my network has gotten larger and my older group [of friends] has gotten smaller.”
If participants miss one counseling session, they can be sanctioned, which could be punishable by serving community service or writing an essay. If they test positively for drugs during a scheduled urinalysis, they are not thrown out of the program, instead they are offered positive reinforcement and encouragement to keep trying. But participants have to remain drug-free for nine months to move on in the program.
“You’ve struggled before in drug court,” Hueston said to Demetria Ingram, a participant who was experiencing serious personal problems and having a hard time connecting with her third case manager. “I need to get you to the finish line. Relationships take time. I think you’re afraid of change, but change can be good too. I need you to rise to that occasion.”
Success not just about graduation rates
There are between 200 and 400 participants enrolled in the Baltimore City Drug Court at any given time. About one third will graduate. But Hueston said she doesn’t judge success of the program entirely on graduation rates.
“We measure success not just by graduation or whether they stay clean. If they’re clean for a long stretch of time, that many crimes won’t be committed and drug-free babies are born.”
Baltimore City Drug Court Coordinator Latesha Parks said a nonprofit component would not only help to raise funds for the program, which they are currently prohibited from doing, but it would also help staff obtain benefits. Since its inception, the program has kept on 70% of its staff, but many don’t get benefits from the state.
“Immediate staff members are not considered full-time state employees and are not paid benefits, although we work for the Judiciary and are subject to their rules,” Parks said. “With a 501(c)(3), we will be able to look at other ways to get benefit packages for our employees.”
The judiciary also requires a ceremony acknowledging program graduates, but program grant funds cannot be used for receptions or the ceremony itself.
“Normally we seek donations from local businesses for beverages, snacks and paper goods. Under a 501(c)(3), we will be free to raise funds for the program through local events, raffles and other creative ideas that the Judiciary frowns upon, for obvious reasons,” Parks said.
There are 54 problem-solving courts in Maryland, 21 of which are adult drug courts. In fiscal year 2012, the Office of Problem-Solving Courts received $3.2 million in funding from the judiciary, 22% less than the previous year.
The Baltimore City District Adult Drug Court will host its next graduation next Thursday, Oct. 20. For more information, contact Latesha Parks at firstname.lastname@example.org.