Repeat drunk drivers lucky enough to be sentenced to Baltimore County's new drunk driving detention center in Owings Mills next year may have to pay between $3,000 and $3,500 for the privilege.
There will be no free ride for county-provided treatment, said detention center administrator James Dean and Sheriff Norman Pepersack yesterday, speaking during a tour of the facility that will be the site of the new DWI center. They estimated the fee at $3,000 or more.
County Public Works Director Gene Neff said that bids on the $700,000 worth of work that must be done to the Richards building on the grounds of the Rosewood Hospital center will be advertised next month. Work should begin in September, so that the new 100-bed center should be ready to go by January.
A companion new Owings Mills District Court is also being planned for construction on the Rosewood grounds, but no specific site has been selected, according to state officials.
State Sen. Janice Piccinini, D-Balto. Co., led a tour of the Richards building yesterday to explain the new project to area residents, the press and other public officials.
One neighbor, George A. Easto, 65, who has lived on nearby Bradbury Road for the last 33 years, was wary of increased traffic congestion, especially once the court is built, but sheriff Pepersack said the DWI center should place no burden on the community.
The residents will all be transported to and from the facility in county vans, he said, and visitors will come mainly on weekends. Once back from their jobs each day, the residents will be busy with therapy sessions or personal chores and will not be out in the neighborhood, he said.
Pepersack said convicts at the center will pay for their stay because it is considered specialty rehabilitation. Prince George's County also charges a fee for people sentenced to its DWI center, he said.
Mike Gimbel, director of the county's Office of Substance Abuse, said the treatment program will be intense, with therapy and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings every evening and throughout the weekends.
The goal, Gimbel said, is to drop the rate of drunk driving repeat convictions from the current 35 percent in the county below 10 percent -- that is, one of every three drunk drivers is convicted for repeated offenses now -- and to cut down on related accidents.
"These are not drug dealers or murderers, they are people who have the diagnosed disease of alcoholism," Gimbel said. He added that people who come through the program will get one year of outpatient follow-up therapy.
Eighty percent of those admitted are expected to be employed and they will continue on work-release during their treatment, Gimbel said. Currently, repeat drunk drivers are often put on probation and assigned to get counseling, but that often isn't enough to affect their behavior.
The DWI prison is also expected to help reduce crowding in the county jail, while a new 216-bed addition is built onto the county detention center in Towson.
Neff said the Richards building is in excellent condition, and will need no structural changes. It was renovated by the state in 1985, and was in use until one year ago. The interior rooms are in such good shape they won't even have to be painted, he said.