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Quick and Dirty

Treat Them Right

By Christina Royster-Hemby | Posted 10/5/2005

“Almost, if not better than, 70 percent of the people currently incarcerated in Maryland prisons self-report having some sort of alcohol or drug-addiction problem, according to the [Maryland] Division of Correction,” said Tara Andrews, director of nonprofit offender-advocacy group the Maryland Justice Coalition, at a celebration in Patterson Park last week for former substance abusers. “And they were under the influence of alcohol or other drugs, or they were trying to get to their drugs when they committed the offense that landed them in prison. “

On Sept. 30, the Maryland Justice Coalition sponsored what it called Baltimore’s Biggest Re-Birthday Party, an event to highlight the recovery of numerous drug and alcohol addicts living in the area.

The atmosphere in the park was festive. A group of people, some wearing orange and grey jumpsuits to represent those addicts who are waiting release from prison, shared lunch and danced to tunes spun by a DJ. Purple, and yellow balloons adorned the tree-lined area where the event was set up.

“Almost everyone here has a criminal record,” Andrews said. “And it is because their addictions and the things that they did to further their addictions that led them to some sort of criminal activity.”

A handful of police officers stood at the perimeter of the celebration and observed the activities. The celebration was endorsed by a proclamation from Mayor Martin O’Malley.

“These men and women could have been much better served if someone had put them in a drug-treatment program instead of sending them to prison,” Andrews said, adding that in spite of legislation that passed last year providing more opportunities for men and women to receive addiction treatment rather than incarceration, Maryland still has one of the highest prison-admission rates in the country for nonviolent drug-related offenses. In Maryland, she says, it costs $24,000 to incarcerate someone for a year; it only costs $4,000 to $14,000 to provide treatment for ex-offenders.

“We are delivering the message that drug treatment is important, that recovery is possible,” Andrews noted. “We continue to have a lack of resources around the drug-treatment system. But we need to beef up our drug-treatment system so that we can produce more success stories.” Like the many personified by the faces at the Re-Birthday Party.

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