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Facility for drunken drivers to expand Balto. Co. operation will have room for 80 women


Pleased with the success of its jail treatment facility for drunken drivers, Baltimore County is planning to expand the 100-bed operation and quadruple the number of women offenders the privately run facility can treat.

Right Turn of Maryland Inc., which operates the facility -- the only one of its kind in Maryland -- is raising $500,000 to renovate two buildings at Rosewood Center in Owings Mills, which would increase the number of women who could be treated from 20 to 80.

"It was very controversial at the beginning, but it is giving us great results," Michael M. Gimbel, the county's director of the Bureau of Substance Abuse, said of the 4-year-old facility.

County officials say those who take part in the program are far less likely to become repeat offenders.

The recidivism rate for drunken drivers who are not treated ranges from 30 percent to 35 percent, Gimbel said. But he said 7.6 percent of the first 213 offenders treated by the facility were arrested again for drunken driving by the end of last year, within two years of completing the program.

"It's really held up as a national model," Gimbel said.

Last year, alcohol-related traffic accidents killed 21 people in Baltimore County, and county police arrested 2,226 people for drunken driving. During the first 11 months of this year, 21 people were killed in alcohol-related accidents and 1,876 people were arrested for drunken driving.

Baltimore County began its drunken driving jail-treatment program in September 1994 in an effort to reduce the number of repeat drunken drivers.

A year after completing the program, 4 percent of the first 213 graduates were caught driving drunk again.

Even though the recidivism rate increased to 7.6 percent, Gimbel said the results show the program is working. "If we would have gotten 12 to 15 percent, I would have been thrilled," he said.

Gimbel credits the success to the center's strictness.

During the first 28 days, the program is much like a jail, with offenders confined to the facility on the campus of state-owned Rosewood Center. They are tested daily for drug and alcohol use and required to attend therapy sessions. After the 28-day treatment, they continue in a yearlong follow-up program that includes group meetings several days a week.

About 3,300 people have gone through the program. Most are sentenced to the program by judges, although the program also takes offenders who admit themselves.

At first, the company had trouble filling its 100 beds because judges balked at requiring offenders to pay as much as $2,000 for their treatment. To increase the number of people in the facility, the program was expanded to include drug and alcohol users who commit other nonviolent crimes.

The company reduced its fees and instituted a sliding scale based on an offender's income for the 28-day program and developed payment plans and subsidies for those who could not afford treatment.

Now the beds are filled, with about half of the residents from Baltimore County and the others from the city and neighboring counties.

To increase the number of spaces for women, Right Turn has leased two additional buildings at Rosewood Center for a separate women's operation, said John Goings, administrator of the program.

"What you're seeing is a significant number of women are getting involved in the [criminal justice] system," Goings said. Because judges often are reluctant to put women in jail, these women often have longer histories of substance abuse than the men, he said.

Jacquelyn Jamison, 44, struggled with alcoholism for 20 years -- an addiction that resulted in two drunken driving arrests, disorderly conduct charges and several suicide attempts. In June, after her marriage broke up and her mother told her never to return home, Jamison sought help at the Baltimore County jail-treatment center.

Although she had tried other programs, she said she found what she needed in the strict rules of the Right Turn program.

"They didn't want to hear about your feelings, they cared about your behavior," she said. "Here you've got to grow or go."

Jamison credits the program and prayer with helping her get over her depression and craving for alcohol. She completed the program a few weeks ago and has joined the Right Turn staff. She also reconciled with her mother and spent Christmas with her in Salisbury.

"She must have told me 10 times how glad she was for me to come home," said Jamison.

Pub Date: 12/29/98

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