ANNAPOLIS – A program that provides rehabilitative services for non-violent substance abuse offenders will take its first steps Wednesday toward expanding into six other counties.
The Correctional Options Program (COP) will start an eight- week training program for caseworkers in Harford, Howard, Anne Arundel, Wicomico, Charles and Baltimore counties. Already in Baltimore City and Prince George’s County, COP has served since March 1994 as an intermediate sanction between prison and traditional probation.
“We want to take the concepts gained in Baltimore City into other areas,” Thomas Williams, a state corrections official, told members of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee Tuesday. “We want to take the services into the community instead of taking the people out of their community to the services.”
Almost 2,500 offenders participated last year in services such as out-patient drug treatment, mandatory drug testing and job counseling. Offenders stay in the program for an average of 14 months, are released sooner and stay out of jail longer, Williams said.
A National Council on Crime and Delinquency study recently showed that participants in the program experience a lower rate of recidivism. The study, which tracked almost 400 inmates for one year after their release from prison, was the main focus of testimony Tuesday.
Almost 13 percent of the offenders not in COP were re- incarcerated, compared to 10 percent among COP participants.
“I did expect the numbers to be lower, but until now we had no real model,” Williams said. “I am very happy with the results.”
The researchers attributed the slight difference in recidivism to COP participants having undergone more intensive supervision. They are therefore more likely to be re-incarcerated for technical violations such as violating the terms of their parole, but not for a new crime.
Williams said each COP caseworker monitors about 50 offenders and makes about eight to 10 contacts with them a month.
The crime council’s study also concluded that in 1995 and 1996, the program helped reduce the average daily prison population by 624 inmates and saved about $9 million annually in operating costs and $32 million in capital construction and financing costs.
However, the council also noted unresolved issues, including:
* COP’s impact over longer periods of time.
* The effectiveness of specific components and services. * The possibility that the population of prisoners eligible for the program has peaked. -30-