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Court Information Office
For Immediate Release
BALTIMORE (January 21, 2003) – A Baltimore grand jury has recommended a more aggressive approach to the city’s “epidemic” of substance abuse in a report released today.
Charged by Circuit Court Judge Edward R. K. Hargadon with assessing treatment options and suggesting ways for the justice system to better serve defendants with drug problems, the grand jury proposed expanding the use of drug treatment court, providing addiction assessments of suspected substance abusers in every case coming before a district court or circuit court judge for sentencing, and hiring more probation agents.
Noting that over 50,000 people were charged with drug possession, manufacture and/or distribution in 2002, and that at least 70 percent of cases heard by the Circuit Court for Baltimore City were drug-related, the grand jury said, “To continue on a path of trying to arrest our way out of this epidemic will not work.”
Defendants who might benefit from treatment do not receive it, the report said. Over-worked service providers cannot follow-up with clients.
The grand jury’s recommendations:
• More slots in drug treatment court, which “has been the single most effective criminal justice tool for changing the lives of addicted criminals into lives of healthy, drug-free, and productive citizens …”
Not only is probation in drug treatment court far more effective than incarceration in reducing the recidivism rate for non-violent drug offenders, but probation costs only one-sixth of the cost of incarceration.
• An increase in the number of probation agents and other service providers. With caseloads that average over 200 defendants per agent, parole and probation agents “are unable to adequately and regularly follow up with defendants” who have substance abuse problems, the report said.
• Assessment of all defendants for possible substance abuse problems before trial. Assessments would allow a sentencing judge to determine whether the defendant should be incarcerated or is a candidate for substance abuse treatment. Until that goal is reached, judges should be encouraged to request assessments, the report said.
• A continuum of care, with better communications and less duplication of services. On an immediate level, state criminal justice agencies should not be duplicating assessments and treatment plans for the same individual. A legislative commission should be established to review how substance abuse treatment centers and the criminal justice system can make for a smoother transition of the recovering addict into a normal, healthy environment.
• Continued study/evaluation of drug treatment programs and of the treatment center certification process administered by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
Grand juries are convened in Baltimore City and Maryland’s counties to evaluate prosecutors’ evidence against people who might be charged with a crime. Each grand jury is composed of 23 members selected at random. Grand juries also investigate and make recommendations about components of the criminal justice system. Their recommendations frequently serve as the basis for legislation and new programs.