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 3)

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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

"We told the drug court that we were more than happy to help, that we would help in any way we can and that we support them, but there is a difference in the way we are doing business," Nash said.

Dion said drug court was created because traditional criminal justice methods didn't work for addicts. He served as Cumberland County sheriff for 12 years before becoming a legislator. He ran the county jail, where he saw a revolving door of repeat offenders with substance abuse problems.

"Addiction isn't getting any better," he said. "If we need to change our game or step it up, we need to do that."

Dion said the drug court team needs to remember that sanctions in the program aren't supposed to mirror sanctions in a traditional court setting.

"Probation is supposed to be the eyes and ears. They are supposed to provide the supervision so the addict has some boundary for their behavior," Dion said. "Drug court held out the promise that they could make the compliance more compulsory."

Without a probation officer, no other member of the Cumberland County team has the power of arrest.

The judge frequently takes matters into his own hands, ordering court marshals to take clients into custody during the regular Friday court sessions and imposing sanctions he chooses himself.

Several current drug court clients approached for this story declined to comment, citing concerns their remarks would be held against them. Moskowitz did not respond to a request to be interviewed.

The poster child for the program's early success is Linda Jalbert, who was 36 when she was first admitted to drug court in Cumberland County.

She didn't do well initially. She relapsed, was jailed, returned to drug court and relapsed again.

"I just couldn't stay clean," said Jalbert, who is now 50 and lives in Washington, D.C.

She was ordered into a residential treatment program.

"I would never, unless they had taken me into that residential treatment center in handcuffs in the back of a cruiser, I would never have gone," she said. "Did I need to go to jail for four years? No. Did I need to go to jail for two years? No. I knew I had played my last card. I knew that if I didn't go through that program I wouldn't have done it."

Jalbert described drug court as "intensive."

"I had counseling three times a week. Then I had probation. My probation officer did house checks. Most of them don't," she said.

She credits her probation officer, Allen Wright, now a regional correctional manager for southern Maine.

"He was probably the best thing that happened to me, even if at the time I didn't think so," she said.

Jalbert graduated from drug court in 2000 and went on to the University of Southern Maine, receiving a degree in political science with a minor in economics. She was the first person in her family to graduate from college.

She went on to work first as an intern in the office of U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, then worked for four years on the senator's staff. Her son now works for Collins in the same office where she once worked.

"If I had gone to prison, what happened with my life wouldn't have happened. Two years or four years in prison wouldn't have done me any good," Jalbert said. "I don't think I would have made it."

Jalbert recently received a rare full pardon by Gov. Paul LePage. 

Scott Dolan can be contacted at 791-6304 or at:

sdolan@pressherald.com

 

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Today's poll: Drug courts

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

Yes

No

View Results