Fo­cus shift con­tin­ues in drug re­cov­ery court

Change in mar­i­juana laws drops re­fer­rals

The Enterprise - - Front Page - By JOHN WHARTON jwhar­ton@somd­news.com

The on­go­ing phase-out of St. Mary’s ju­ve­nile sub­stance abuse re­cov­ery court, af­ter the state’s de­crim­i­nal­iza­tion of mar­i­juana pos­ses­sion, leaves an adult ver­sion still in­tact, ac­cord­ing to its co­or­di­na­tor, and the pos­si­bil­ity of a sep­a­rate fo­cus on im­paired drivers.

“That was the pri­mary drug for those com­ing into our pro­gram,” Pete Cu­cinotta, the cir­cuit court’s drug court co­or­di­na­tor, said dur­ing a re­cent in­ter­view. “The num­ber of re­fer­rals was de­clin­ing rapidly,” he added, not­ing that other ju­ris­dic­tions in Mary­land were ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the same tran­si­tion.

“This is a trend statewide,” he said. “Most of them have closed up. We were on the tail end of what was go­ing on around the state.”

The adult ver­sion of the pro­gram, one that fo­cuses on

ad­dress­ing un­der­ly­ing ad­dic­tion prob­lems of de­fen­dants whose cases qual­ify for ad­mis­sion and the po­ten­tial for an al­ter­na­tive dis­po­si­tion, re­mains in op­er­a­tion in the court­room of re­tired Cir­cuit Judge Karen H. Abrams.

The ju­ve­nile drug court got its start in St. Mary’s 14 years ago, and in his cham­bers this week, Cir­cuit Judge Michael J. Stamm, now the lo­cal court’s ad­min­is­tra­tive judge, said its ben­e­fits will con­tinue through the county’s reg­u­lar ju­ve­nile court sys­tem.

“We’re not giv­ing up on kids,” Stamm said. “We’re do­ing a dif­fer­ent fo­cus.”

With the sim­ple pos­ses­sion of mar­i­juana no longer an in­car­cer­able of­fense, ju­ve­nile ser­vices au­thor­i­ties could no longer use that alone as a ba­sis for a “high-risk, high-need” delin­quency re­fer­ral, the judge said, which would be­gin the path of a young per­son’s case through the state’s at­tor­ney’s of­fice to the court­room. Wide-

spread opi­oid ad­dic­tion is­sues are not as preva­lent in ju­ve­nile crime, the judge said, adding “to be in drug court, you had to be an ad­dict of some type.”

Dur­ing its 14-year-run, the St. Mary’s ju­ve­nile drug court, some­what like its equiv­a­lent for adults, of­fered an al­ter­na­tive to the pos­si­bil­ity of long-term de­ten­tion at a ju­ve­nile fa­cil­ity, if the youth­ful of­fender suc­cess­fully went through more than a year of in­ten­sive mon­i­tor­ing and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion, with fre­quent progress re­views by the judge and other par­tic­i­pat­ing au­thor­i­ties.

The pro­gram had a suc­cess­ful grad­u­a­tion rate of 52 per­cent, Stamm said, and an “ex­tremely low” num­ber of the grad­u­ates re­turned to crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity.

“I’m pretty bit­ter­sweet about it,” the judge said of end­ing the pro­gram. “I’m proud of the suc­cess. We did well.”

The reg­u­lar ju­ve­nile court sys­tem, ini­tially through agents with the depart­ment of ju­ve­nile ser­vices, con­tin­ues to look for “un­der­ly­ing is­sues” of ad­dic­tion when ju­ve­niles

are ac­cused of of­fenses in­clud­ing shoplift­ing, the judge said.

“The fo­cus now is on opi­oid abuse,” he said, as the drug is­sues evolve, and the com­mit­ment to as­sess and ad­dress ju­ve­nile of­fend­ers’ prob­lems con­tin­ues. “You’re sup­posed to treat the spe­cial­ized needs of each child. These are all things that we can of­fer,

and we still do.”

Cu­cinotta ear­lier said that ad­mis­sions to the county’s ju­ve­nile drug court ended last February, and that the last chil­dren to qual­ify for its ser­vices can con­tinue pur­su­ing its po­ten­tial ben­e­fits for the reg­u­lar al­lot­ted time.

“Those in the pro­gram would have a full year to com­plete the pro­gram,”

the co­or­di­na­tor said. “There’s only about three peo­ple left.”

While the adult sub­stance re­cov­ery court con­tin­ues, with a full docket of cases to re­view each month, Cu­cinotta said its ap­proach may be en­hanced and ex­panded.

“We may have some changes for the adult[s] that are com­ing,” he said, in­clud­ing a new court pro­gram fo­cused on im­paired drivers, and not just those con­sum­ing al­co­hol.

“It could [also] be other drugs,” he said, if the meth­ods of de­tect­ing drivers’ use of those sub­stances are en­force­able in mak­ing an ar­rest, and in court. “The science is still catch­ing up with that,” he said.

STAFF PHOTO BY JOHN WHARTON

Pete Cu­cinotta, left, St. Mary’s drug court co­or­di­na­tor, with the county’s ju­rists in­clud­ing Cir­cuit Judge Michael J. Stamm.

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