Pubdate: Fri, 07 Jan 2000
Source: Bangor Daily News (ME)
Copyright: 2000, Bangor Daily News Inc.
Author: Renee Ordway


BANGOR -- On Monday morning, the way the state deals with a serious problem
will undergo a major overhaul with the start of a nationally acclaimed
juvenile drug court.

Maine Chief Justice Daniel Wathen hopes the program will help set the
state's youthful offenders on a path of rehabilitation instead of repeat

The five drug courts will be located in Bangor, Biddeford, West Bath,
Augusta-Waterville and Portland.

Juveniles referred to the program will undergo extensive drug treatment and
will have their progress monitored weekly by state judges. Two major goals
of the program are to reduce recidivism by treating the offenders' substance
abuse problem and to reduce the incarceration rate of some juveniles.

If juveniles successfully complete the roughly yearlong program, the
criminal charge filed against them may be reduced or dismissed.

Wathen estimated that substance abuse plays a significant role in the life
of 75 to 80 percent of the juvenile offenders who come before state courts.

The $800,000-a-year program is primarily funded by a continuing block grant
from the U.S. Department of Justice. The state's obligation is only 10
percent of the total cost, Wathen said.

''This is just a win-win situation for us and we are all very excited about
it,'' he said Thursday.

The $800,000 allowed the state to hire four additional judges and five drug
court administrators. Since the grant is continuing, Wathen said he is not
concerned that it will suffer the same fate as the Cumberland County adult
drug court, which was dissolved last year when the federal funds dried up.

''[The Cumberland County Drug Court grant] was a demonstration grant, not a
continuing block grant like this. ... We're already covered for the next two
years and there is no reason to think it will not continue indefinitely,''
the justice said.

Juvenile offenders with a substance abuse problem will be considered for
referral to the program, except those charged with violent Class A crimes
such as murder.

''There must be a link between the criminal act and the substance abuse,''
said Barry Stoodley, a regional correctional administrator. ''But they don't
have to have been under the influence of drugs at the time of the offense.''

The program is expected to handle about 100 juveniles the first year.
Referrals can be made by various professionals such as juvenile correction
officers, judges or attorneys. The youths will then be screened by a
juvenile community correction officer and by a drug court treatment manager.
If deemed eligible, juveniles can begin the program immediately.

The program will involve weekly court appearances for about one year and an
intensive treatment program.

''The first two phases of treatment are quite intense and as it progresses
it becomes more of a monitoring system,'' Stoodley said.

The key to the program is the close contact each juvenile will have with a
judge, Wathen said. The judges will become very familiar with the juveniles.
They will know their progress and their family and school situation, Wathen

''Normally now, if a kid is referred to treatment, we never know if he goes
or stays or how it's going,'' Stoodley said.

If juveniles do well in the community-based treatment programs they may be
rewarded with such things as movie passes or gift certificates, according to
Stoodley. If not, they may get sanctioned with a verbal reprimand, increased
drug testing, supervision or electronic monitoring.

In addition to the close supervision of the youths by the judges, the key
components of the program will be the ability of the state to deal with the
juvenile offenders swiftly and with certainty and consistency, Wathen said.

''Right now it takes way too long for us to process a juvenile offender.
It's important, especially with this age group, that these kids see the
consequences for their actions quickly or it has little meaning,'' Wathen

Each drug court manager will do intensive case management with each juvenile
and will have caseloads of only about 15 kids, Stoodley said.

''This will allow the case manager to monitor each juvenile closely and do
more in terms of working with the schools and family and ensuring that
ancillary services like mental health or recreational services are
provided,'' he said.

Day One, a substance abuse agency for adolescents and families, will oversee
the treatment phase. Wathen said the agency currently has a federal grant
that will provide for that service.

There are 40 drug courts throughout the country, and Wathen said the
programs make a vast difference in the recidivism rates of the juveniles

''We see these same kids over and over, and the crime escalates, and the
substance abuse worsens, and they eventually turn 18 and land in an adult
state prison. This program, we hope, will really help combat that downward
spiral. The thought is that if you lick the substance abuse problem, you
have really got over a big hurdle and you can get the juvenile back on
track,'' he said.
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