More Parolees, Probationers Tested for Drugs!

More Parolees, Probationers Tested for Drugs!
Posted by FoM on January 13, 1999 at 06:47:02 PT

Nearly 6,200 criminals released on parole and probation in Maryland have been ordered to report to authorities twice a week for urine tests as part of a landmark attempt to overhaul how the state supervises drug-addicted offenders, according to state officials.
The figure is more than five times higher than it was just two months ago--a sign that the state's ambitious "Break the Cycle" program is expanding rapidly. Under the plan, all 25,000 drug addicts on parole and probation in Maryland eventually will be required to undergo treatment and frequent testing--and face swift, escalating punishments if they skip a treatment session or test positive for drug use.No other state has tried to hold its entire population of drug-addicted parolees and probationers accountable to such a frequent regimen of testing, and Maryland's attempt to do so is being watched by criminal justice policymakers across the nation.The enterprise faces a range of obstacles, particularly if large numbers of offenders test positive and the state is unable to punish them effectively. But if it succeeds, proponents such as Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (D) believe it could cut demand for heroin, cocaine and other drugs in the state nearly in half--undermining the illicit drug markets that fuel crime and violence in many neighborhoods.The testing began slowly this fall in seven jurisdictions: Prince George's, Montgomery, Howard, Charles, Washington and Baltimore counties and Baltimore City. As local judges, probation agents, treatment providers and jail officials worked out the details, the number of offenders ordered into the program jumped sharply, from about 1,200 in the first week of November to nearly 6,200 as of last week.Each jurisdiction has devised its own sanctions for offenders who test positive for drugs or skip treatment sessions. In Prince George's, for example, agents will supervise offenders more closely after the first infraction, order them to watch court proceedings for two days after the second infraction and impose community service after the third infraction. Further violations would result in more severe penalties, such as home detention, and a seventh violation would put them back in court.The goal is to use the criminal justice system to force drug addicts to remain in treatment--a departure from the conventional wisdom that addicts must "want to change" to kick their habits."I've been putting people into Break the Cycle, and I'm optimistic it's going to make a difference," said William D. Missouri, the Circuit Court administrative judge in Prince George's. "But I probably won't have a good sense of the results until the beginning of February."Leonard Sipes, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, said the state has not yet determined how often offenders are failing the drug tests, how they are being punished when they do so or how many of them are completing treatment programs.He said the greatest obstacle will be trying to force probation agents to act quickly when an offender fails a drug test or misses a treatment appointment.  Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company
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