Judge Fred Hecker has presided over Carroll's Drug Treatment Court for a little over a year, and he's already thinking about how to expand it.
There are 50 slots in the Drug Treatment Court, but Hecker said he wants to create up to 25 more by hiring a part-time case manager. It requires grant money, he said, and he might find that money through Gov. Larry Hogan's Office of Crime Control and Prevention.
The Carroll County Board of Commissioners received $6,750 from the 2016 Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grants, funded through the federal Department of Justice and distributed through the governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention, according to a release from Hogan's office. The money is supposed to go to the Carroll County Circuit Court to allow them to put money toward training and travel for drug court staff, according to the release.
Currently, the 50 slots are full, but Hecker said he has yet to turn anyone away from drug court, if they are eligible and recommended for it. He expects that there will be a higher demand for it as the county continues to tackle its drug problem, and he also said he would like to see more people who qualify enter the program.
People in drug court must be older than age 18, a Carroll County resident, amenable to treatment and have a primary diagnosis of substance abuse disorder. They cannot have committed a violent crime, he said.
The minimum amount of time in which a person can complete the drug court program is 13 months, but Hecker said it takes most people at least 18 months. They hold two graduations a year, and Hecker said many graduates come back to support those up for graduation. During the graduation ceremony, the graduates reflect on what drug treatment court meant to them, Hecker said.
"And you can't listen to what they say and not feel that emotion," Hecker said.
But not every drug court participant makes it to graduation. Hecker said there's a 50 to 55 percent graduation rate, which is at or slightly higher than the national average.
"So most of the individuals who enter Drug Treatment Court graduate," he said. Those who don't graduate are either terminated from the program or self-terminate.
Participants are terminated if they violate drug court policy, have new criminal cases, are absent from the program for 30 days or are no longer amenable to treatment. If you are terminated or voluntarily withdraw from the program, it counts as a violation of probation toward the participant's original criminal case, which could result in jail time.
Any judge can order an 8505 evaluation, which determines whether a person is amenable to treatment. If the person is amenable, an 8507 order can be issued to send a person to a treatment facility. While they are at the facility, they are still in custody, even though they aren't in a jail.
Then there is the drug treatment program at the jail, which doesn't require a court order.
The health department and substance abuse counselors will decide who gets one of the beds in the Carroll County Detention Center's treatment program, Warden George Hardinger said.
Right now, the program is only for men because the program is done within a housing unit. There's limited space for another housing unit for a female treatment program, and there aren't enough qualifying female inmates, Hardinger said.
Hecker said he'll sometimes require a person to go through the program before they can go into Drug Treatment Court. He might also order a person go through the program while participating in drug court. One of the cases could be a participant who overdoses while in a sober home, he said.
Relapsing is the most common violation for the participants in drug court. People also have curfew violations and violations for failing to attend self-help meetings. Violations in drug court do not violate a person's probation, Hecker said.
Hecker said the recidivism rate is about a third lower for those who graduate from Drug Treatment Court is lower than that of the general public.
But drug court isn't just about preventing future crimes or overcoming an addiction. The court also provides the participants life skills, he said.
Hecker reflects on first year
For Hecker, Drug Treatment Court has changed the way he operates as a judge. He estimates he spends 25 percent of his time on drug court proceedings and behind-the-scenes requirements.
He's called it a learning experience, and he's working to expand his knowledge of how to effectively run the specialized court. He's attended a national conference with Laura Drgos, one of the Drug Treatment Court case mangers, and he said he's learned something new every day presiding over the court.
"The main thing I learned is there are proven evidence-based practices for Drug Treatment Court that you would not apply to other court proceedings," Hecker said.
It has also given him a new perspective for working with people who have substance abuse disorders. He said he believes that if the county doesn't address the root cause of substance abuse, it is not going to be successful in reducing the amount of overdoses or crimes.
"All judges, I think, recognize punishment alone is not the answer in the criminal justice system," he said.
Part of it is an understanding that a brain dealing with substance abuse disorder is not a normal brain. People with affected brains may act differently, Hecker said.
"You have to be attuned to what is causing someone's behavior if you want to motivate them," he said.
Hecker said running Drug Treatment Court is a group effort, and while he has a final say, he seeks out team input. He works with people from the Health Department, parole and probation, pretrial services, the Public Defender's Office and the State's Attorney's Office.
"Their insight is really invaluable to me," Hecker said.