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Baltimore judge launching nonprofit to help support drug courts

A Baltimore judge who set up the state’s first drug court is trying to launch a nonprofit group to help support the services for drug addicts like Clinton Worrell, on heroin for 20 years.

“The program helped me get back to being a person and not an animal,” said Worrell, 46, of Baltimore. This month he will graduate from adult drug court and move to New Jersey to begin work at Campbell’s Soup Co., “hopefully in shipping and handling.”

Maryland District Court Judge Jamey Hueston founded the state’s first adult drug treatment court in Baltimore 17 years ago. The program offers habitual law-breaking drug addicts the choice of entering a voluntary, long-term drug rehabilitation program run by the court over going to prison.

The program has graduated 1,000 drug addicts since it began in 1994. Most of its participants have been addicted to heroin or cocaine for 10 to 30 years. Many have lost contact with their families, become homeless and committed crimes to feed their daily habit, which Hueston says can cost $50 to $250 per day.

“There are many issues with addiction. You cannot just treat addiction,” Hueston said to a room full of guests this month who came to view a “Day in the Life of a Problem-Solving Court.”

“We need incentives to encourage positive behavior,” she said. “We are trying to develop scholarship funds, help with housing needs and enhance the graduation ceremonies.”

The program provides individualized services to participants, including home placement, job training, counseling and help with obtaining health insurance and legal identification, such as a driver’s license. Each participant has a support network that consists of a case manager, a probation agent and a variety of personnel to rely upon for their individual needs. The program lasts about 12 to 15 months.

There are 54 problem-solving courts in Maryland, 21 of which are adult drug courts. In fiscal year 2012, the state Office of Problem-Solving Courts received $3.2 million in funding from the judiciary, 22 percent less than the previous year.

Baltimore City Drug Court Coordinator Latesha Parks said creating a nonprofit, or 501(c)(3), component would not only help to raise funds for the program, which it is now prohibited from doing, but it would also help the staff obtain benefits. Since its inception, the program has kept on 70 percent of its staff, but many don’t get benefits from the state.

“Immediate staff members are not considered full-time state employees and are not paid benefits, although we work for the Judiciary and are subject to their rules,” Parks said. “With a 501(c)(3), we will be able to look at other ways to get benefit packages for our employees.”

The judiciary also requires a ceremony acknowledging program graduates, but program grant funds cannot be used for receptions or the ceremony itself.

“Normally we seek donations from local businesses for beverages, snacks and paper goods. Under a 501(c)(3), we will be free to raise funds for the program through local events, raffles and other creative ideas that the Judiciary frowns upon, for obvious reasons,” Parks said.

The Baltimore City District Adult Drug Court will host its next graduation on Thursday.

There are 200 to 400 participants enrolled in the Baltimore City Drug Court at any given time. About one-third will graduate. But Hueston said she doesn’t judge success of the program entirely on graduation rates.

“We measure success not just by graduation or whether they stay clean. If they’re clean for a long stretch of time, that many crimes won’t be committed and drug-free babies are born.”

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