- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 18, 2004

The Ehrlich administration yesterday named state correctional facilities in Hagerstown and Jessup as the sites for the state’s new program to provide drug treatment instead of jail time to nonviolent criminals.

The Maryland Correctional Training Center in Hagerstown was selected because it is equipped to deal with youth and adult offenders, said Mark A. Vernarelli, spokesman for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

About 37 percent of the 2,900 inmates in the Hagerstown facility are juveniles.

“It has many programs geared toward youth,” Mr. Vernarelli said.

The Maryland Correctional Institution for Women in Jessup was chosen because it already has several treatment programs in place and because it has 910 female inmates, he said.

“In all fairness, we had to have the women inmates involved as well as the men, so this a logical choice for our second pilot location,” Mr. Vernarelli said.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. made the rehabilitation of nonviolent criminals a priority since taking office in 2002 and said it has been his concern for many years.

“From guns to the disintegration of the family to AIDS to sexually transmitted diseases, it is all about drugs,” Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, told leaders of the National Alliance of State Drug Enforcement Agencies earlier this month.

The program, known as Project RESTART, an acronym for Re-entry, Enforcement and Services Targeting Addiction, Rehabilitation and Treatment, is a two-year pilot program in which teachers and drug- and alcohol-abuse counselors help nonviolent prisoners.

Mr. Ehrlich’s decision to put the facilities in Hagerstown and Jessup was lauded by lawmakers from those districts.

“I am a supporter of the RESTART program,” said state Sen. Alex X. Mooney, a Republican who represents residents near the Hagerstown facility. “We need to make sure we do it in a way that does not compromise public safety.”

Delegate John R. Leopold, an Anne Arundel Republican, said yesterday he was pleased to learn that people in his jurisdiction would be among the first to receive treatment.

“I consider the RESTART program, with an emphasis for drug treatment, to be one of the positive and progressive initiatives of the recent legislative session,” he said. “The emphasis on drug treatment is not only going to help the individuals in the program. It also will be a big help to all taxpayers in the long run.”

Said Mr. Vernarelli: “We are very excited. I think everyone wants this to work because the safety of our staff and the public at large are dependent upon our ability to reduce the recidivism rate.”

Administration officials expect the program to reduce the state’s 51 percent recidivism rate.

Under the program, state’s attorneys can offer treatment instead of prosecution to nonviolent offenders with addiction problems, after an assessment by the state’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Judges also can place offenders directly into treatment programs and create an Alcohol and Drug Abuse Council in each county.

All drug- and alcohol-treatment records would be expunged as long as the program is completed successfully.

Mr. Vernarelli said the wardens at the facilities would begin phasing in the $1.2 million program, which employs about 200 staffers, on July 1, the beginning of the fiscal year.

“It is not going to happen overnight,” he said. “We hope to work with the state department of education and beef up the education and counseling elements first.”

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