During the past year, Harford County, Md., Judge Mimi Cooper has signed 11 orders to send drug-abusing criminals to rehabilitation rather than jail or prison – a drug diversion program that Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. streamlined in 2004, reports Maryland’s Capital News Service. So far, only one of those offenders has been placed in a residential treatment center, and the rest languish in jail while they wait for a bed. Many wait as long as 18 months, nine times longer than the average misdemeanor sentence. Most merely serve out their sentences while waiting.
“It’s gotten to the point where lawyers roll their eyes when a defendant stands before me and asks for treatment,” Cooper said told a legislative committee this week that oversees drug and alcohol abuse issues. “Everyone knows they won’t get placement for the treatment they need.” Judges from Baltimore and Anne Arundel County sharply criticized Ehrlich’s administration for not spending enough money to meet the demand for inpatient drug treatment. Statewide, about 140 people are on the waiting list to fill 200 beds in the drug diversion program. “I see that many people in one day,” said Baltimore District Judge George M. Lipman. “We can’t hold someone for two years waiting for a bed.” This year about $4 million – or roughly 3 percent – of the budget for the state’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Administration, which oversees the treatment services, goes to long-term inpatient care for addicts referred from the courts.