Monday, February 22, 2010

The Drug Addiction Sham

originally published December 12, 2008

When I appeared on Marc Steiner’s program recently the first caller to the show stated that I didn’t “understand” what it was like to be a black male in Baltimore, and that I should call for “public education.”

So I was particularly interested to hear Mayor Sheila Dixon, a black Baltimorean, talking about violent juvenile offenders last Wednesday at a Criminal Justice Coordinating Council meeting. She described a chilling video she had seen of a 17-year-old-male shooting another 17-year-old who was ordering food in a store while two female juveniles laughed. And she didn’t call for public education.

“We have to begin at all levels to make things tougher [for these individuals],” she said. “We keep going in this cycle.” While acknowledging the need for youth programs to forestall violence like this, Dixon was clearly through with “understanding.”

It isn’t just Baltimore that hasn’t yet made things tougher for the right criminals. Let’s take three cases from the counties where judges took obvious sociopaths and treated them like non-violent drug addicts, wasting precious treatment slots on persons who belonged in prison.

Justin Bolden built himself quite a rap sheet in Harford County when he turned 18 in 2002. Assaults, handguns, fleeing from police, auto thefts, resisting arrest and trespassing—the classic arrest pattern of a budding violent criminal

Then in December of 2003 came the crime his rap sheet predicted. Bolden and some buddies got themselves a shotgun and drove around looking for people to rob. One of those buddies blasted a young man named Antonio Allen for refusing give up his money. Bolden plea bargained his role in the murder to attempted robbery and got 5 years in prison, with 10 more years suspended.

Bolden then asked Judge William O. Carr to take him out of prison and send him instead to a drug treatment program. After an evaluation by the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH) Carr signed an order (called an 8-505 order) committing Bolden to DHMH for drug treatment. While waiting for a bed Bolden committed two assaults in prison and twice also possessed a weapon. Nevertheless, he was released to the Gaudenzia drug program in February of 2007 and put on probation.

A year later Bolden was arrested for assault and made bail, followed by an arrest for kidnapping and armed robbery, again posting bail. (Sound familiar?) Judge Carr finally issued a warrant for violating probation and sheriffs tried to serve it on May 20, 2008. According to the sheriff’s office, Bolden had 15 grams of cocaine on him. (Even overloaded Baltimore prosecutors require less than half that amount to charge defendants with drug-dealing.) Bolden fought with deputies as he tried to swallow the drugs and died from cocaine intoxication complicated by an airway obstruction.

Over in Anne Arundel County, Judge Nancy Davis-Loomis was letting another violent criminal out of prison a month after Bolden got out. Aaron Hatt’s rap sheet boasted arrests from five different Maryland counties and included armed robbery (which was handled in juvenile court), numerous assaults, a felony drug arrest, and multiple domestic violence incidents. After going to prison on a four-year sentence for burglary, Hatt, who is now 29, asked Judge Davis-Loomis for an 8-505 order. Even though the prosecutor pointed out Hatt’s prison record, which included four assaults on staff members, Davis-Loomis ordered his release to drug treatment. While at the Second Genesis program he stole from other patients, was disrespectful to staff, and finally walked off altogether. He is now doing four years for violating probation.

Finally, we have Charles Ravenscroft, age 28, also of Anne Arundel County. Let’s just jump straight to when he got 18 months for theft in 2002. He tried to get out of that sentence while in prison by blaming his troubles on drug addiction. “[I] Render myself powerless to Drugs without Help. Beleive me your Honor I truely want help.” Judge Robert Heller wasn’t buying and left him in prison.

When Ravenscroft was released to probation he then refused to go to the drug treatment he had truly wanted while locked up. Meanwhile, besides beating his pregnant girlfriend, he was burglarizing the home of his girlfriend’s father, for which he got a new 8-year sentence in December, 2004.

Ravenscroft then accumulated several violent prison infractions and was sent to a prison in Virginia to get a fresh start, only to have Virginia send him back for violent behavior. He assaulted a correctional officer and got one year in Washington County, and was put in maximum security for, in part, his involvement in the stabbing of an inmate. Ravenscroft wrote to Judge Pamela North describing his criminal conduct as a “scream For Help” for his drug problem. Judge North bit. She signed an 8-505 order committing Ravenscroft to DHMH for drug treatment. He was released from prison on September 28, 2008.

Three violent men, repeatedly unable to conform their conduct to the law in or out of prison, treated by judges as drug addicts who with treatment could be released back to the community. One committed more crimes and is dead, the other is back in prison, and the third is wait and see.

In the cases of Bolden and Ravenscroft the judges didn’t know about their prison infractions. Joe Cassily, Harford County State’s Attorney, said his office opposed Bolden’s release but needed to “tighten up the ship” in getting prison information to judges. Kristin Fleckenstein, spokeswoman for the Anne Arundel County State’s Attorney’s Office, said her office uses a form to request DOC records for inmates who request 8-505 hearings. The prosecutor who handled Ravenscroft’s hearing apparently didn’t use it.

I will come back to these three criminals in another article because their prison records illustrate the utter stupidity of Maryland’s prison system of “good time” credits. But as for the judges, I tried to talk to all three for insight into their thinking. Were they missing any information that might have helped them in their decisions? For example, did they not know about the prior arrest records? Did they think they think they were irrelevant, or illegal for them to consider? Do they rely primarily upon the evaluation done by DHMH? Does DHMH do any evaluation of a criminal’s dangerousness?

But the judges aren’t talking. Judge North politely declined to talk to me, and Carr and Davis-Loomis just ignored me. So these questions go unanswered, the issues they raise go unaddressed, and judges pull violent criminals out of prison and put them in programs that bear little if any relation to their conduct.

Baltimore has company.


  1. Interesting. It's sad to see a correlation between the effects of US Domestic-Drug policies on the poor/lower-class/minorities like those in Baltimore and US Foreign-Drug policies on underdeveloped countries, such as Afghanistan. Through an elaborate Drug Policy reform, this will change. I believe the prisons in the US are appalling, particularly in comparison to prisons in Europe, and even parts of South America. As there is much opposition to restorative justice, it will be a long time until such an approach will be realized. But I do believe that our system of detention should seek to reintroduce the offenders into society, instead of punishing them by giving them time and then releasing them into society, worse than they were before. I appreciate your article. It points to this very necessity in quite an urgent fashion.

  2. There is clearly a need for discernment between violent offenders who should not be considered for drug treatment programs and those who will take the opportunity and work to recover from their drug addictions.