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Drug court offers teen offenders a last chance to beat substance abuse

August 15, 2007|By ERIN JULIUS

HAGERSTOWN - Teenagers who repeatedly land in juvenile court for drug- and alcohol-related crimes have a new opportunity to get clean.

In June, the Washington County Adolescent Drug Court began accepting participants, usually teenage offenders referred by probation officers, said Jennifer Bricker, drug court coordinator.

The program aims to reduce recidivism and teach teenagers how to be responsible human beings with no drug or alcohol abuse, Bricker said.

Washington County Circuit Judge Frederick C. Wright III brought the idea of the drug court to the Washington County Alcohol and Drug Abuse Advisory Committee in early 2005, Deputy State's Attorney Steven Kessell said.

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Drug court, which takes between 12 and 18 months to complete, consists of five phases, each a bit less intense than the last.

Offenders accepted into the drug court program suffer from addiction and, without serious intervention, they risk being taken from their homes and put in a youth center for in-patient treatment, Kessell said.

Kessell described the drug court as a highly structured probation.

Offenders with diagnosed substance abuse or dependency who need treatment with a juvenile record are eligible for the program. The substance abuse treatment is done through the Washington County Health Department, Bricker said.

Offenders meet with a judge twice a month in the early stages of the program and once a month in the later phases, Bricker said.

"It's a last-ditch effort prior to going to placement," said Cherity Shahan of the Department of Juvenile Services.

Offenders are intensely supervised, and seen by the health department and by the judge more often, she said. Shahan will be able to devote her full attention to the teenagers participating in the program, she said.

Assistant Public Defender Brian A. Hutchison represents the teenage offenders throughout their involvement with the drug court. Hutchison, who has been involved in the court since its early planning stages, said he is hopeful and "cautiously optimistic" about the success of the program.

Incentives and sanctions are used to motivate the offenders, Bricker said.

Trips to Hagerstown Suns games and Hersheypark are some of the incentives in store for the offenders, Shahan said. Community service and detention are sanctions that could be imposed, Bricker said.

The drug court is a group effort involving the state's attorney's office, public defender's office, Washington County Circuit Court, Department of Juvenile Services, Health Department and Board of Education.

The drug court is funded by grants from the Office of Problem-Solving Courts, Bricker said.

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