By Amy Blades Steward
With drug and alcohol issues at the root of many crimes in Talbot County, two and half years ago Judge Bo Earnest of the Talbot County Circuit Court established a unique program called the “Problem-Solving Court.” While there are between 30 and 35 Drug Courts in the State of Maryland, this year-long program has a broader scope in helping address the substance abuse and mental health issues of residents of Talbot County. Most of the participants in the program have been charged with possession of drugs or have related drug charges in Circuit Court. The Problem-Solving Court helps to keep them from falling back into their bad behaviors. According to Judger Earnest, the program is working in transforming lives.
Dewayne Camper of Trappe, a 37-year old father who recently graduated from the Problem-Solving Court, found that he had turned to drugs to deal with his problems. He comments, “There are rules to follow in life. We are raised to know these rules, but sometimes our attitudes can get in the way. This program taught me to follow directions in order not to face more serious consequences in my life. I realized I wanted to turn my life around for myself and for my 10-year old daughter. I needed to be together to be a better father to her.”
Camper credits the Problem-Solving Court with turning his life around. He comments, “At first I didn’t want to do it. It required doing extra work to prove to them that I was serious.” He adds, “I soon realized this was a help system and not a court.”
Judge Earnest comments, “The program is designed to help people in these circumstances – making it more of a therapeutic court. It is very difficult to deal with these addictions. A majority of the people with substance abuse issues have mental health issues as well, so the program determines what each individual needs and includes psychological treatment.”
Participants of the Problem-Solving Court must sign a written contract to be in the program for a minimum of one year. The first step is getting people into a substance abuse treatment program through the Talbot County Addictions Program or Shore Behavioral Health. This program, which can last from 30 days to one year, requires the participant to submit to random drug testing three times a week. The results are reviewed with the participant in the Problem-Solving Court every two weeks. In addition, they must meet every two weeks to review their progress with Judge Earnest and his team, which includes the State’s Attorney, Public Defender, Division of Parole and Probation, Talbot County Addictions Program, Shore Behavioral Health, Talbot County Detention Center, and Mid-Shore Mental Health Services. Participants must also attend a meeting of either Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous twice a week, perform a minimum of 40 hours of community service with local charities, and write essays to express themselves and their journey. The program also addresses education and employment issues, working to link participants with employment services provided by the Workforce Investment Board and educational offerings.
For Dewayne Camper, Problem-Solving Court gave him the opportunity to attend Chesapeake College where he is studying Human Services. He hopes to get into counseling one day himself. He states, “I ignored the help offered to me throughout my life. I didn’t feel people would understand my problems. Sometimes you just need to talk to someone to deal with your problems. I have realized that through participating in the program and am totally taking advantage of the help now offered to me.”
Judge Earnest adds that in addition to the Problem-Solving Court, Talbot County is working to establish another groundbreaking court – Re-Entry Court, which assists people returning from jail and prison. While it has been approved by Talbot County, it is awaiting approval by the State of Maryland. He states, “Most of these people, who also have substance abuse and mental health issues are woefully unprepared to return to society from prison. When they come back from prison, the results are entirely predictable with the majority re-arrested and being sent back to prison.”
According to Judge Earnest, the purpose of the Re-Entry Court is to figure out who the good candidates are for rehabilitation – those who are not a public safety threat – and have them serve the last six months of their sentence in the Talbot County Detention Center to prepare them for their return to the community.
He adds, “We are not coddling criminals. Whether we like it or not, these people are coming back into our county. Some of their problems can’t be treated effectively in prison and there is science-based evidence that we can lower the recidivism rates by doing this.”
The Re-Entry Court will re-acquaint the participants with their families and address their addictions, utilizing such programs as the Fatherhood Program with the Talbot County Detention Center, Mid-Shore Mediation Program, Mid-Shore Mental Health Services, Fresh Start Housing, Talbot County Addictions Program, Shore Behavioral Health, and the Division of Parole and Probation. The participants will transition into Talbot County’s Problem-Solving Court to continue their transition back into the community.
For Dewayne Camper, Talbot County’s approach is working. He concludes, “The more you do right, the scope of life gets bigger. Other people are watching me now and it helps me stay grounded and to stay on track. It is not easy when you complete the program, because the issues in our lives don’t go away. It means you still need to keep working to make progress.”
For further information on Talbot County’s Problem-Solving Court, contact the Program at 410-770-6823.
In photo: Pictured left to right are Judge Bo Earnest of the Talbot County Circuit Court with Dewayne Camper of Trappe, a 37-year old father who recently graduated from Talbot County’s Problem-Solving Court. Camper credits the Problem-Solving Court with turning his life around.