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New Report: Baltimore Judges frustrated with limited treatment options: “Almost everyone we see needs drug treatment”

Tuesday, March 4, 2008
Contact: LaWanda Johnson (202)-558-7974 x308

New Report: Baltimore Judges frustrated with limited treatment options

“Almost everyone we see needs drug treatment”

Lack of treatment resources drives poor outcomes, unnecessary incarceration 

Baltimore, MD—Baltimore judges say limited treatment resources drive unnecessary incarceration and bad outcomes for people with addictions who end up in the criminal justice system, according to a new report released today by the Justice Policy Institute (JPI). Too often, people who abuse substances wait in jail for treatment slots to open, or end up in prison after untreated addictions contribute to probation violations. The report, “Judging Maryland: Baltimore Judges on Effective Solutions to Working with Substance Abusers in the Criminal Justice System,” explores Baltimore’s continued reliance on incarceration despite significant state, local, and private investments in a treatment system that is considered a national model. The report’s findings are based on two focus group interviews with judges who sit on Baltimore’s Circuit and District Courts.

“There’s a drug problem in almost every case we have...,” said a Baltimore judge. “Almost everyone we see needs treatment – almost every prostitution, possession, and trespassing case.”

According to report findings, inadequate supervision and a shortage of slots in appropriate treatment programs were two of the leading concerns voiced by the judges. Judges also felt that the lack of timely, objective information about the individual’s needs, availability of treatment slots, and outcomes at the individual and program level prevent them from identifying appropriate alternatives to incarceration and the proper level of supervision.

“We’re expected to be treatment professionals and we’re not,” said one judge.

“Baltimore judges’ hands are tied. They know that substance abuse is driving a majority of the low-level offenses in their courts, but they don’t have adequate access to high quality treatment slots,” said Sheila Bedi, Justice Policy Institute executive director. “Instead of getting the help they need to recover from addiction, people are trapped in a cycle that leads to relapse, reoffending and wasteful prison spending.”

Research shows Baltimore spends far more on prisons than it does on treatment. For each dollar spent on imprisoning people with addictions, just 21 to 26 cents is spent on treatment.

On paper, judges have many options for placing defendants with addictions in treatment. However, in practice, an overwhelming majority are placed on standard probation supervision without adequate treatment support. Probation violations can ultimately funnel people into prisons and jails, when an earlier intervention may have helped them avoid relapse and reoffending. When judges attempt to commit individuals to outpatient or residential treatment slots, the limited availability often results in jail time.

“As a matter of desperation, you send people to the [Department of Corrections] knowing that they won’t get treatment there, and knowing that when they’re released you start all over,” said one judge.

Baltimore’s drug courts have been rigorously evaluated and are considered a national model. Drug courts, however, are not widely available, handling fewer than 900 cases at any one time. While judges can also commit people to the custody of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to receive treatment, residential slots are limited and resource-intensive.

“Baltimore has some of best treatment services in the country, but there isn’t enough to go around,” says Naomi Long, director of the DC Metro Project of the Drug Policy Alliance. “You have a national model and judges who care, and still so many people end up behind bars. We desperately need to expand treatment options to free up beds in Maryland’s overburdened prison system.”

Based on judges’ suggestions and concerns about barriers to treatment over incarceration, JPI recommends various policy reforms, which include:

• increasing the capacity of Baltimore courts to assess defendants’ drug treatment needs;
• improving information-sharing systems among assessors, treatment providers, and the criminal justice system;
• enhanced training on substance abuse and Baltimore’s treatment system for interested judges;
• expanding the use of methadone maintenance to jail detainees and people on methadone treatment waitlists;
• improving supervision of participants in court-ordered treatment by fully implementing Proactive Community Supervision in Baltimore;
• expanding Baltimore’s Drug Treatment Court Programs and the Felony Diversion Initiative;
• studying the population of “frequent users”;
• expanding supportive housing and residential treatment capacity in the City; and
• improving representation of substance-addicted defendants by hiring more Office of the Public Defender (OPD) attorneys and staff to increase the number of defendants served by OPD’s Division of Client Services.

While most of these reforms have been evaluated for their long-term cost effectiveness and could reduce costs associated with prisons and crime, the report recommends that several proposals be considered to help pay for these new public health policy reforms. This spring, Maryland legislators are considering bills to raise Maryland’s alcohol excise tax to help fund expanded treatment, and the “Smart on Crime Act,” a bill that would revise drug sentencing statutes and generate correctional savings that could be redirected to drug treatment.

For more information on Judging Maryland, contact LaWanda Johnson at 202-558-7974.


Posted in Press Releases & Statements

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