Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : April 2005

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For Some Addicts, Drug Court Offers a New Kind of Fix
By Tom Breihan

“Baltimore City was one of the first 10 or 12 [drug courts] in the entire country,” recalls Baltimore City District Court Judge Jamey H. Weitzman, who started the Baltimore City Drug Court. “We were at the beginning stages, the ground floor, when the whole drug court movement was being set up.”

Weitzman may not have started the country’s first drug court – Janet Reno did that in 1989, when she was District Attorney of Dade County, Florida. But when Weitzman launched the Baltimore City Drug Court in 1994, she became the first to apply the innovative, humane solution to Maryland’s drug problem, helping its victims and their families and giving much-needed relief to backlogged court systems and overcrowded prisons. Today, nearly every county in Maryland has a drug court in place or in planning. Weitzman remains at the head of the movement as head of the Drug Treatment Court Commission of Maryland, the umbrella organization for all of Maryland’s drug courts.

Weitzman began Baltimore’s Drug Court after the Bar Association of Baltimore City released its Russell Committee Report in 1990, revealing the strain that a plague of drug cases had placed on the court system. “We got the Drug Court going to try to address the chronic drug-addicted population here in the city,” says Weitzman. “The rest is history.”

The Drug Court offers drug treatment as an alternative to prison for those addicts who pass its screening procedures. The Court weeds out offenders with histories of violence and drug-dealing, focusing instead on those who can be helped by the process. “We’re really targeting the folks that are committing crimes because of their addiction,” says Weitzman. “But for drug addiction, our theory is that these people would not be in the criminal justice system. We’re able to screen out those who we think would still be criminals or pathological.”

Once a candidate is selected for the Drug Court and agrees to participate in its program, she signs a contract and enters a treatment program. “Once they’re stable and doing well, we then make sure they get a job, job training, job placement, G.E.D., try to support their other needs,” says Weitzman. “We believe that drug addiction is just one of the many problems; there are many other associated problems. You have to address them all holistically – the piecemeal approach doesn’t work. So we provide lots of support services as well: a mentoring group, an alumni program that brings in defendants who are actively in drug court as well as graduates and give them a support network. We have speakers, and we’re planning social activities, things like that. We have an acupuncture program.”

With the Drug Treatment Court Commission, Weitzman has overseen the creation of similar drug courts elsewhere in the state for the past two years. In Maryland’s different counties, the drug court faces new problems and challenges. “Some of the counties are rural, some are urban,” she says. “Some have a large population, some are small. Some have a big alcohol problem, others [have] heroin and cocaine like us. There are no two alike. Having said that, though, all drug courts have to follow the certain key components. That’s one of our jobs, to make sure that any drug court that’s starting is meeting the best practices, minimal standards, and that while each drug court will have a different personality, they’ll all have to meet certain criteria.”

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: April, 2005

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