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Ex-judge: Addicts need a path forward, not incarceration | READER COMMENTARY

Lindsey Staymates thanks friends who helped her through the process during the Carroll County Drug Treatment Court graduation held at Carroll Community College two years ago. (Brian Krista/Carroll County Times).
Lindsey Staymates thanks friends who helped her through the process during the Carroll County Drug Treatment Court graduation held at Carroll Community College two years ago. (Brian Krista/Carroll County Times). (Brian Krista/Carroll County Times)

For the past 19 years, I have presided over the Felony Drug Treatment Court of the Circuit Court for Baltimore City. Dan Rodricks’ three suggestions for “swift action” to curb the opioid epidemic are right on point (”Fentanyl deaths: America’s epidemic worsens in the pandemic. What do we do about it?” April 20). In particular, his suggestion of the “conversion of one prison in each state into a full-service drug treatment hospital” and a community court are feasible and supported by evidence-based studies demonstrating they have a major, positive impact on individuals suffering from substance use disorder and recidivism.

In 1994, I had the opportunity to meet former Texas. Gov. Ann Richards. She told me that she had converted certain correctional institutions in her state to “treatment centers” for individuals suffering from substance use disorder to receive support services and treatment prior to release. In doing so, she had solicited the support of the Texas “Fortune 500” to donate their personnel to come “behind the bars” to give employment and life skill training. She even persuaded a group of dentists who volunteered to correct dental problems in response to inmates who complained that the bad condition of their teeth presented cosmetic barriers to employment. These programs were discontinued after she left office.

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A community court in Baltimore City should have been created years ago. These courts now exist across the country and have a dual impact — support for the individual and positive impact on the communities in which they exist. Instead of individual “problem-solving” drug, mental health, prostitution and veterans’ courts in separate courthouses with overcrowded dockets, these programs exist in one physical building with the treatment providers, social workers, case workers, professional peers and job specialists who work as a team of recovery support services. Court personnel and police officers are given special training. Community courts represent a positive symbol of hope and give individuals a path out of the criminal justice system into the community as self-sustaining, law abiding citizens.

Ellen M. Heller, Baltimore

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The writer is a retired Baltimore City Circuit Court judge.

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