Officials see problems in plan for court reform

The committee steering reform of Baltimore's courts warned legislators yesterday that a new program for speedy justice is doomed unless more drug treatment is made available for criminal offenders.

In a report to members of the General Assembly's budget committees, the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council predicted the program - scheduled to begin in September - will fail if more treatment and alternative sentencing plans are not put in place.


But city officials say they can provide less than half the roughly $8 million the committee estimates is necessary.

That paints a gloomy picture for the program, which aims to rid the court of minor cases within 24 hours. The plan was spurred largely by Mayor Martin O'Malley, who said weeding out minor cases from the clogged courts would allow prosecutors to devote more time to violent offenders.


John H. Lewin Jr., co-chair of the council, said O'Malley should put most of the additional $8 million the city received from the state for drug treatment into the program. "Unless the city can provide an appropriate and adequate number of treatment facilities, we have not accomplished anything, we have just speeded up a revolving door," Lewin said.

Officials say that offenders are not likely to enter guilty pleas quickly - as the plan envisions - unless alternatives to prison, such as drug treatment and community service, are offered. Without adequate drug treatment, the program "clearly will fail," Lewin said.

Peter Saar, director of the Mayor's Office on Criminal Justice, said O'Malley has proposed spending about half the $8 million on all court-ordered drug treatment, including the program.

Saar said O'Malley originally asked the state for $25 million more for drug treatment, but received one-third that sum. "That's ... what we have to work with," Saar said. "Is it an adequate amount? In all likelihood it's not."