CENTREVILLE — Circuit Court Administrative Judge Lynn Knight introduced plans Sept. 14 for a problem solving court in Queen Anne’s designed to offer resources to those dealing with drug addiction, an idea championed by the county commissioners during their first meeting since QA went purple in solidarity with victims of drug abuse.

According to Knight, who said she “didn’t really realize how far behind the times” the county was in relation to drug courts, while similar programs have taken root in Maryland for the last 25 years, Queen Anne’s is the only county in the state without one. The county’s only circuit court judge did acknowledge, however, that because of this position, the establishing process in QA could move faster because the county doesn’t need to “recreate the wheel.”

“People want this in our county,” Knight said during the meeting. “And people are committed to coming to the table to help out.”

Linda Friday, president of the Queen Anne’s County Chamber of Commerce and an active member of the county’s drug free coalition, was the first member of the public to applaud the program, speaking after Knight during a public comment section.

“It’s been a focus for Queen Anne’s County to create that opportunity for those that may have an addiction,” Friday said in an interview. “So, just to hear that they’re going to give that opportunity...I was very excited to hear [Judge Knight] say that they’re going to give a second chance.”

The recovery court will utilize a “wide variety of community services,” according to the outline presented to the commissioners, including risk and needs assessment, regular judicial interaction, supervision, treatment, and rehabilitation. These services offer individuals therapeutic and educational tools to better themselves, as opposed to experiencing jail time where bad habits and addiction aren’t likely to falter.

By focusing on the behaviors of drug abusers, the program, according to the outline, works towards “self-sufficiency and personal responsibility,” thus “improving” the community as a whole.

While the problem solving court is an alternative to incarceration, citizens facing drug charges who opt into the program are required to take a guilty plea with the knowledge that not only will sentencing be delayed, but that graduation from the program – which involves five phases and, on average, takes 14 to 20 months to complete – will result in the dismissal of their case. This arrangement, Knight explained, was agreed to by State’s Attorney Lance Richardson.

That being said, a variety of offenses could terminate someone’s participation in the program and subject them to sentencing for their original charge, including directing violence towards one’s self or others, failure to attend or comply with the treatment plan, or the possession of a dangerous of deadly weapon, among others.

Relapse, however, is “generally accepted as part of the recovery process” in the eyes of the court, according to the outline, and may not necessarily result in one’s termination from the program. The number of relapses that are acceptable will be determined on an individual level and be based on the recommendations of the individual participant’s treatment provider.

Though Knight acknowledged her desire to help those in need, there are offenses that automatically disqualify someone from participating in the recovery program, including kidnapping, murder, first degree assault, or any kind of sexual offense, among others. Similarly, anyone with a gang affiliation is barred from the drug court, as is anyone from outside of Queen Anne’s County.

Because the drug court is a new development in QA, and is limited in terms of funding and staffing – Knight said that she plans on presiding over the court’s cases herself – the program’s first year in action will accept five to seven cases. The screening process deeming whether someone is eligible for the program will commence “as soon as possible after arrest,” according to the outline.

When it comes to establishing the court, once the outline and plan have been finalized, and the “key players” have been included – such as the county’s health department, state’s attorney, detention center, and parole and probation departments – Knight and her team will seek approval from State Court Administrator Pamela Harris. From there, the plan must go through the judicial council, and then, eventually, newly appointed Chief Judge Joseph Getty.

Knight said that while new funding from the Administrative Office of the Courts would not be available until July, 2022, discussions for mid-year funding had taken place so that the program could hire a coordinator to “keep all the pieces together.”

When asked by the commissioners how successful similar programs have been, Knight said that while the average success rate for drug courts across the country are approximately 20 percent, Maryland has had more success, averaging between 40 and 45 percent.

“A 40 percent success rate would be outstanding,” Commissioner Jim Moran said during the Sept. 14 meeting. “It really would, for what you have to deal with addiction and opioids.”

Moran also told Knight that “anything [the commissioners] could do” was available to her.

Luke Parker is a journalist and award-winning film critic covering government, schools, crime, and business. To send a tip or question, email lparker@chespub.com. For updates, like Luke Parker — Journalist on Facebook or follow him on Twitter: @lparkernews

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