Judge Kevin Mahoney will preside over Harford County Circuit Court's new drug court, similar to the one in District Court. The first two participants began the program Monday and will meet with Mahoney and others the first and third Monday of each month.
Judge Kevin Mahoney will preside over Harford County Circuit Court's new drug court, similar to the one in District Court. The first two participants began the program Monday and will meet with Mahoney and others the first and third Monday of each month. (MATT BUTTON | AEGIS FILE)

Amanda Oliver is facing up to 20 years in jail on drug charges and hasn’t seen her 3-year-old son or her stepson since she was arrested on a probation violation on Easter.

Twelve years in jail loom in front of Hayward Henderson — also on drug charges. He was in rehab but walked away.

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Both of them have previously sought help for their addictions, but were unsuccessful. This time, they’re enrolling in Harford County Circuit Court’s drug court — not only to help keep them out of jail, but more importantly, Judge Kevin Mahoney said, to treat their addictions.

“The ultimate goal is to keep people alive. We’re having terrible problems with [drug] overdoses and deaths,” Mahoney, who spearheaded the circuit court’s drug court and will preside over the cases, said. “More globally, we’re really looking to identify and attract people to the program who failed in other aspects.”

The program is for people who have had treatment opportunities, multiple contacts with the criminal justice system and have tried to address their addictions issues but have failed.

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The program is for people who have had treatment opportunities, multiple contacts with the criminal justice system and have tried to address their addictions issues but have failed.

In addition to the court, participating agencies include the Harford County State’s Attorney’s Office, Harford Public Defender’s Office and members of the local health department, law enforcement and parole and probation, Mahoney said.

“The plan is to provide wraparound services, to facilitate the participants recovery and use the carrot and stick approach — we have a team working with them,” he said.

The program

Drug court participants can come from various places — a judge referral, parole and probation, the health department, the detention center or themselves.

Participants apply for the program and have to be approved by the State’s Attorney’s Office. Individuals charged with the most violent crimes or with charges pending in other counties likely would be excluded from the program, Mahoney said.

Once approved, participants undergo a clinical assessment to determine the best course of treatment for them.

“This is not a court for some kid experimenting with marijuana, this is a person who is at least eligible for intensive outpatient treatment,” Mahoney said.

After the assessment, each person is assigned a state’s attorney as well as a representative from the public defender’s office, the health department, parole and probation, the detention center and the Office of Drug Control Policy.

They are required to attend regular meetings — individual and group sessions — and appear in court the first and third Mondays of each month.

The team, including the judge but not the participant, meets at 8 a.m. to review each participant’s status before they appear before Mahoney at 9 a.m.

The program generally takes about 18 months to go through the four phases. As the program progresses, the reporting and intensity of the program may lessen a little, but that will be determined on a case-by-case basis, Mahoney said.

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Participants could also face sanctions if they fail to comply with terms of their probation — such as more stringent reporting and testing, community service hours, home restriction and time in jail.

“Or they could be discharged if it’s not not working, and go back into the system,” Mahoney said.

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Harford County’s District Court drug court program is specific to opiates and is overseen by Judge David Carey.

Carey has been working closely with Mahoney to develop the circuit court program, where participants suffer from a broader range of addictions, including alcohol.

The charges circuit court participants are facing are also typically more serious than those in district court, Mahoney said.

A judge for three and a half years, Mahoney wanted to champion the drug court program in circuit court.

“I walk across the street every morning and see the [overdose] sign at the Sheriff’s Office. I’ve seen enough probation reports labeled ‘abated by death,’ meaning I can’t supervise them anymore because they’re dead,” Mahoney said. “A significant majority of the crimes we see inside the courtroom are fueled by addiction.”

Julie Marindin was the public defender representing Oliver and Henderson on Monday. The private defense lawyer in Bel Air applied for the position to be the agency’s representative in drug court.

“It’s where we see all the problems these days,” Marindin said. “Without a concentrated effort in the system, we can’t correct the problems.”

She did some work with the district court program and when the circuit court opportunity became available, she jumped on it.

“Unless we target addiction, it will continue to happen,” Marindin said.

The participants

Oliver, 26, of Forest Hill, and Henderson, 35, of Edgewood, appeared Monday before Mahoney as the first Harford County Circuit drug court participants.

Oliver was arrested and jailed on Easter for violating her probation in a case in which she was found guilty of possessing narcotics with intent to distribute. She hasn’t seen her stepson nor her 3-year-old son since her arrest.

“One of the goals is to get you to see your son. A little boy needs his mom,” Mahoney told Oliver. “Work on yourself, and get to a point where hopefully you can play a role in his life.”

Mahoney told her the program wasn’t going to be easy, but an entire team of people is working on her behalf to help her be successful.

Oliver’s probation to Judge Yolanda Curtin was transferred to Mahoney, who released Oliver to the Char-Hope Foundation’s Twin Stream Learning to Live Ranch, a sober living home for women in northern Harford County. The ranch, where taking care of the animals is part of the daily routine, is run by Derek Hopkins, Harford County’s Register of Wills.

“We look forward to seeing you back here on the 17th of June, hopefully with good work,” Mahoney said.

Don Mathis, a case manager with the Harford Office on Drug Control Policy, offered Oliver words of encouragement before she left.

“Everybody in this room wants you to make it. The secret is, sober people hang out with other sober people,” Mathis, who is in long-term recovery, said. “Let us help you, and you can turn your life around. Stay sober and you can turn your life around.”

Henderson was arrested March 7 and was in the Harford County Detention Center until Monday, when Mahoney released him — as long as he adheres to the conditions of drug court probation.

He had strict orders to report the Harford County Health Department at 8 a.m Tuesday and to the Aberdeen office of parole and probation between 1 and 6 p.m. Thursday.

His wife has a car, and he has a license, so he can get there, Henderson told Mahoney.

If he can’t, for some reason, he needs to call ahead of time because the program has resources available to help Henderson keep his appointments, Mahoney said.

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“Don’t wait until you potentially violate the terms before you tell us the problem,” he said. “We are all pulling for you to be successful. We’re not trying to find a way to sanction you, to send you back to prison. We’re trying to find a way you don’t ever have to see us for a long time.”

Mahoney was already supervising Henderson’s probation.

“Mr. Henderson, you hurt my feelings. I sent you to Gaudenzia [treatment center] because I thought you had drug problems and it would help. Every report I got about you said you’re great. It was positive, you could see the finish line,” Mahoney told him. “Then you made a decision to go off-campus with your wife and you decided to walk away from all the progress you made.”

The past has passed, the judge said, and he hopes Henderson learned something from those experiences that he can apply to the new program. “Because, frankly, you’re running out of chances,” Mahoney said.

If Henderson needs help finding a job or job training, Mathis can help him, he said. And it’s all free.

“There are 5,000 open jobs in Harford and Cecil counties,” Mathis said. “We have free training, programs, certifications, all kinds of stuff. When you get settled, see me. My sense is you want to take care of your family.”

Ten years ago, Mathis said, employers wouldn’t hire people with addiction issues and criminal records. That’s different today, he said, again offering help.

“We’re here to help you, we’re not here to nail you,” Mathis said.

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