On a judicial level, the circuit courts for Calvert and St. Mary’s have established drug court programs that aim to break the cycle of addiction through intensive monitoring and individualized treatment, coupled with the incentive of suspended prison time conditional to their successful graduation.
In Calvert, the circuit court adult drug court was formed in February 2015, Administrative Judge Marjorie Clagett said, and has quickly grown due to a collective community effort. As of press time, 84 partici- pants were enrolled in the program that demands a minimum of 18 months to complete.
Each participant must apply to the program, Clagett explained, and is then vetted by the drug court team of public defenders, prosecutors, case managers, jail staff, parole and probation officers, substance abuse and mental health counselors, and is overseen by Judge Mark Chandlee.
“What drug court real- ly is, adult drug court, is super probation by the court,” Clagett said. “And if your courts don’t buy in, it won’t succeed. So that’s why its important to have somebody that is focused and determined, and Judge Chandlee has that docket every Thursday morning. He gets to know the people, he gets to know their families, he knows when they’re ly- ing.”
“We can’t keep incarcer- ating,” Clagett added. “… Unless you change their lives, they’re going to be back again.”
Participants begin the program in a “stabiliz- ing” phase in which they spend at least six months in a treatment program outside of the county before returning to the community to continue outpatient services and the reintegration process.
“What we have started to do in many different cases ... we’ve put them in a program, like Salvation Army, to stabilize them for six months before working them back into the community,” said for- mer program coordinator Molly Owens. “We’ve got people all over the United States in treatment.”
“The whole point of drug court is that if you recognize the fact that the crimes are being com- mitted by people who are trying to get money together to buy drugs, if you deal with the substance abuse issue, you’re going to have an impact on the community,” she continued. “… And if you look at national statistics for drug courts, you will see that they are the most cost-effective way of deal- ing with crime and deal- ing with substance abuse, and they’re also the most successful way.”
To help participants re-enter society, Clag- ett says she handpicked a group of community members, including busi- ness owners who are willing to give them a chance.
Similar to Calvert, the St. Mary’s Circuit Court has an adult drug court program, or adult recov- ery court, that employs many of the same key principles, as well as a juvenile drug court.
“We give rewards, we call them incentives, and sanctions out as quick to the event as possible,” said Pete Cucinotta, the coordinator for both programs. “So the people are back in court quickly. And so they understand that if they test positive yester- day, there’s a sanction coming rather quickly,” emphasizing the impor- tance of swift action in correcting behavior.
The programs, however, differ in several aspects, such as size and length. The juvenile drug court, created in 2004, current- ly has 16 participants, according to Cucinotta. The adult program, es- tablished in 2009, has 31 with a soft cap at 30. The adult program is at least 12 months long but can be significantly longer depending on a participant’s progress, he said.
“We take the high-risk, high-need,” Cucinotta said of the adult program. “We’re taking the offenders that have longer crim- inal histories and longer histories of substance abuse, by and large. It’s a challenging population, but drug courts are designed just for that. That’s why we have the inten- sity we have, that’s why we have testing so often, that’s why they’re coming back to court so often, that’s why we manage their community behav- ior the way we do — because they need it. They need that level of interac- tion to have any chance of success, because that’s the nature of addiction and the nature of criminal behavior.”
Cucinotta also pointed out the benefits of drug court, such as cost ef- ficiency, lower costs to taxpayers, reducing the population of the local detention center and lower recidivism rates.
“We know nationally those people that just go to jail, go through the system, don’t get any kind of intervention, no drug court, recidivism rates go anywhere between 60, 70, 75 percent. It’s pretty high,” he said. “For those people, nationally, that go through a drug court and successfully complete it, the recidivism rate is about 40 percent.”
Charles County does not have an adult drug court, per se, but does operate a family recov- ery court, which helps parents maintain or regain legal custody of their children after they have been taken away by the state for drug or alcohol issues. The family recov- ery court, established in 2010, has 30 participants currently enrolled.
Due to a high case volume and limited number of judges, with one on medical leave and another near retirement, Administrative Judge Amy Bragunier said the circuit court lacks the means to create and oversee another specialty court, noting the arduous process that goes into the establishment of an adult drug court program.
Judge Helen Harrington, who oversees the family recovery court, explained the difference between the two programs.
“There is a huge difference between the family based drug courts and the adult drug courts that are in the criminal process,” she said. “The most obvious one is that we don’t have any criminal sanctions, we’re not incarcerating people, and it is family-based. We’re dealing with people who are addicted, but also people who have difficultly parenting their child because of their addiction.”
Like adult drug court, Harrington said partici- pants are put into inpatient or outpatient treatment as quickly as possible based on their individual needs, and they are required to make regular court appearances, as well as con- tinuing care and urinaly- sis. Another similarity is a focus on building voca- tional skills, completing GEDs programs, and es- tablishing sober supports in the community.
“I would really love to get an adult drug court going here in the criminal system,” Harrington said. “We’ve been pretty much handicapped by not hav- ing enough judges, and I certainly have not been any help with that in the last few months,” men- tioning her recent back surgery and noting that newly appointed Judge William Greer is current- ly in training.
Charles County State’s Attorney Anthony Covington (D) believes there is a need for more substance abuse and mental health resources in gen- eral.
“I’ve been on the record for years now saying, we need more resources, we need more treatment,” Covington told Southern Maryland Newspapers, adding that if the court decided to create such a program, he would support it, if it was “properly constituted” and organized. While he believes the judicial system has a role to play, Covington said a drug court is not a cure-all. “We always want to look to the criminal justice program to solve these problems, and we have to recognize that the criminal justice system doesn’t see everybody that’s involved in this,” he said. “Sooner or later, and ultimately, it’s up to the individual to decide that they want to get the help.”
He, too, noted the cir- cuit court is short staffed on judges, and pointed out that often visiting judges are called in to preside over cases. Coving- ton also noted Greer’s recent judicial appointment, adding a fifth judge to the bench.
“I think that the leadership in Charles County,” Covington said, “the commissioners, health department, sheriff, and the courts, have probably done better than most … as far as trying to address the issue” and get more resources.
Southern Maryland Newspapers also reached out to Charles County Health Officer Dr. Dianna Abney for her reaction to the newly published data.
“I think in many counties the numbers are high compared to previous years,” she said. “We are in the middle of a drug and alcohol crisis, and one of the things I think is important for us to look at, we’re all concerned about opiates and about Fentanyl ... but I think it’s also very important and very telling to look at two things: one, is that many of these deaths are people who have multiple substances in their body at the time of their death. And the other one is, the number of alcohol-related deaths has risen significantly” from two fatalities through the third-quarter in 2015 to 10 in 2016.
“It’s important to note that alcohol went up sharply,” she continued. “It went up 5 times, 500 percent. And as important as the opioid problem is, and the problems with
other drugs, we can’t lose sight of the fact that alcohol is still with us, and that we need to make sure that we are doing treatment for alcohol use disorder, and doing prevention and education for alcohol use disorder.”
The report from DHMH indicates that in fatal cases where multiple substances were found each substance present is listed. Given this, the 10 “al- cohol-related deaths” could have been in conjunction with heroin or Fentanyl, for exam- ple, and there’s no way to decipher from the data whether or not there were any other contributing factors. Vehicular accidents are not included.
“There’s a couple of things you need to remember about Charles County’s fatalities, and that is, those deaths are report- ed as place of occurrence, that does not necessarily mean that they are all Charles County residents and that they do not share in this report or public- ly,” Abney said. “... Many people in the many regions are ex- tremely mobile. You know that here in the Southern regional, people work, live, have friends, visit people in all three of the counties. So, yes the number was 34 in Charles County. Does that mean that they were all Charles County residents? We don’t know the answer to that.”
Chief John Filer of the Charles County of Department of Emergency Services confirmed what the DHMH data shows: his staff is responding to more drug overdoses than ever before.
“We’re seeing more cardiac arrests, and we’re also seeing people who we are unable to save because of drug over- dose,” Filer said. “… We’re seeing people in their 20s, in their teens, in cardiac arrest because of the drug epidemic.”
The department of emer- gency services responded to about 61 percent more suspected overdoses through the third-quarter in 2016, with 192 responses, compared to 117 responses during that time in 2015.
Filer said he first noticed the trend about two years ago.
“The cardiac arrest rate in Charles County, our save rate was 50 percent,” he said. “We were really proud of that for a really long time. So if you went into cardiac arrest, you had a 50-50 chance of making it, and the national average is somewhere around 19 percent. In Charles County, we were really proud that you had a 50-50 shot and that spoke volumes to what we were doing. So, the heroin epidemic happened and now our numbers have plummeted, and now we’re back down to 20 percent.”
“It’s just the sheer volume and the ages of people overdosing,” he added, “it befuddles you.”
And while police officers are now equipped with two doses of Narcan, drug users are turning to more potent, and dangerous, options that can mitigate the life-saving drug’s effectiveness.
“The strain of heroin that’s out there now is different than the heroin of old. It’s actually stronger, it’s cut with Fentanyl and something called Carfentanil, which is actually an elephant tranquilizer. So it takes more Narcan to revive somebody and save them then it used to.” Filer said. “Before, two doses of Narcan and most people would come out of it. Now, it’s taking four, sometimes six. It’s hard to combat an elephant tranquilizer, you know?”
Bernie Fowler Jr., founder of the Farming 4 Hunger nonprofit organization, inspects the lettuce growing inside a greenhouse at Serenity Farm in Benedict. As part of the Calvert Court Circuit Court adult drug court program, each participant is required to work at least 24 hours on the farm alongside soon-to-be released prisoners and community members alike.
Executive Director Mary Lynn Logsdon outside the Jude House in Bel Alton.