July 6, 2013

Enforcement dispute jeopardizes future of county drug court

After the probation department withdrew its full-time officer, the district attorney who founded the concept calls for the program's end.

By Scott Dolan sdolan@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 2)

Today's poll: Drug courts

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click image to enlarge

Judge Jeffrey Moskowitz listens to a client during a drug court session recently in Cumberland County Unified Criminal Court. For most of the existence of the program, a dedicated probation officer would attend the drug court sessions, but after a change of policy by state officials, that is no longer the case.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

Jailing someone for relapsing while fighting a drug addiction has the same consequences, she said.

"Substance abuse is a disease, and we expect relapses," Nash said.

But Anderson said drug court has lost credibility with clients because they know infractions won't be punished severely.

The defense attorney assigned to the drug court team, Portland lawyer Kristine Hanly, said the policy change has hurt the program.

"If the clients don't feel like they are being held accountable, they lose incentive to avail themselves of the great resources we're providing," she said.

Hanly said the absence of a probation officer can be too much of a temptation.

"I don't want my clients to get in trouble. I'm never happy when they get arrested or are sent back to jail for violations. However, it needs to be a carrot-and-stick approach," Hanly said. "As long as that's there, they can stay more focused on what needs to be done for recovery."

HOW IT WORKS

There are about 30 addicts in Cumberland County's drug court program at any given time. Some graduate, but those who fail end up back in jail.

Drug court convenes every Friday with Judge Jeffrey Moskowitz, who meets in private with the drug court team. Until last year, the group included probation officer Mike Lyon.

The judge reviews how the clients are progressing, and in the courtroom, asks them about their treatment and their outside lives.

The first few months in drug court is an intense process. Clients are required to meet daily appointments and attend classes, in addition to basic probation requirements. They have daily treatment sessions and focus on establishing a stable place to live.

As they progress through drug court, clients then begin to focus on developing skills to find jobs, establish healthy personal relationships, balance budgets and further their education.

Throughout the program, they are required to call every day to see if they must report for a drug screening. They are also required to check in with a probation officer, usually once a week but sometimes more often.

The Department of Corrections does not track the number of times the probation department filed motions to revoke probation and has no available records of how the department's practices have shifted year over year.

In response to a Freedom of Access Act request filed by the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram in May seeking probation data for recent years, the Department of Corrections said it is not required under the law "to create records that do not otherwise exist."

"We don't compile that data. Under the Freedom of Access Act, if we don't compile it, we are not obligated to provide it," said Scott Fish, the department's spokesman. "It's not compiled. It's paper files in manila folders."

A Press Herald reporter reviewed case files in Cumberland County of every drug court client who has been in the program for a year or more.

Some of the files contain hundreds of pages, and some clients have multiple criminal cases. The records, some of them handwritten, show that in the last year, the number of motions filed by probation officers finding probation violations has fallen sharply.

Drug court clients are currently assigned to other probation officers who have no active role in drug court and whose time is often taken up with other criminal cases. Some of those officers continue to file probation violations against the clients, but the records for most of the current ones have no new entries since Lyon's departure.

Nash said the probation department withdrew the officer because the drug court team continued to push back against the policy.

(Continued on page 4)

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Today's poll: Drug courts

Do you think so-called drug courts are a good idea?

Yes

No

View Results