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Maryland Judiciary shares stories of success amid COVID-19

in honor of National Drug Court Month | Week 4

The novel coronavirus, COVID-19, pandemic is proving to be one of, if not the most, challenging and unprecedented events in the history of the Maryland Judiciary. Judiciary leadership, judges, and court staff are working tirelessly to maintain essential daily operations amid the global pandemic.

The Maryland Judiciary’s Problem-Solving Courts are paving the way in finding new innovative ways to connect, assist, and support current participants in the Judiciary’s substance abuse, mental health, and veteran’s treatment programs.

Experts say participants may be triggered by the anxiety, uncertainty, and stress brought on by the challenges in facing a global pandemic and as a result, those individuals are more susceptible to potential relapse.

Judges and problem-solving court staff are at the forefront when it comes to leading the courts in finding new ways of using technology to facilitate their dockets and manage treatment courts during these critical and trying times.

Last month, the National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP) celebrated National Drug Court Month. Due to COVID-19, the Judiciary joined NADCP in acknowledging drug court programs by featuring the many recent success stories from various treatment courts throughout Maryland. The Judiciary highlights here two programs by sharing their stories of success during the COVID-19 crisis.

Charles County Circuit Court Family Recovery Court holds first remote team meeting

“…We’ve not only managed to stay connected with our existing participants but have actually seen our numbers increase...”

LA PLATA, Md. – Under Magistrate Douglas C. Cooley’s leadership, the Charles County Circuit Court’s Family Recovery Court, court-supervised program which helps parents and families to overcome substance use and child welfare issues, was the first jurisdiction in Maryland to enroll new participants by virtual communication. During the first week the courts were closed to the public due to COVID-19, participants were contacted via phone and later by video conferencing. Participants were briefed on program requirements and enrolled into treatment.

“Drugs and alcohol have an insidious way of isolating a person from their family, friends, basically anyone positive in their lives,” said Magistrate Cooley. “We knew from day one that the [social] distancing the COVID-19 pandemic was requiring would only intensify the feelings of insupportable loneliness and impending doom that wreck an addict’s life even in the best of times.”

To support the participants, the Charles County Circuit Court Family Recovery Court utilizes local providers and attorney volunteers such as John Mudd (retired) and John Loughney from Sasscer, Clagett & Bucher. Local providers include Project Chesapeake, Walden Behavioral Health, the Charles County Department of Social Services, CASA of Maryland, Maryland Department of Parole and Probation, the Charles County State’s Attorney’s Office, and the Office of the Public Defender.

In addition, Magistrate Cooley observed that during the COVID-19 public health emergency, registration for the court-supervised program increased.

“Through our incredibly dedicated team’s efforts, as well as some volunteers, we’ve not only managed to stay connected with our existing participants but have actually seen our numbers increase,” said Magistrate Cooley.

Currently, there are 23 participants enrolled in the Family Recovery Court program. Every two weeks, participants meet collectively for virtual check-ins and to talk about their progress amid COVID-19 on Skype for Business.

The next virtual group session is scheduled for June 5, 2020.

Charles County Circuit Court Family Recovery Court staff virtual meeting
The Charles County Circuit Court Family Recovery Court staff held a team meeting on April 24, 2020.

 

Prince George’s County Circuit Court’s problem-solving courts celebrate progress amid COVID-19

“In uncertain and unsettling times such as these, we look for sources of inspiration and optimism…”

UPPER MARLBORO, Md. – Now more than ever, COVID-19 has proven to be a critical time for the Prince George’s County Circuit Court problem-solving courts to increase opportunities for participant and community engagement through virtual graduations. In May, five problem-solving courts in Prince George’s County held graduations during COVID-19 which rallied tremendous community support. Those courts include Juvenile Drug Court, Truancy Reduction Court, Adult Drug Court, Re-entry Court, and Veterans Court. Despite the global pandemic, these problem-solving courts, like others throughout the state, have acknowledged the accomplishments of participants and celebrated their promising futures.

Prince George’s County Circuit Court Judge Michael R. Pearson presides over the Juvenile Drug Court and Magistrate Althea R. Stewart Jones manages the Truancy Reduction Court. Both courts held their first virtual graduations on May 8. Paired with court leadership and dedicated staff, the Prince George’s County problem solving-courts received excellent community participation in rallying support from families and local leaders, who attended the virtual graduations.

“In uncertain and unsettling times such as these, we look for sources of inspiration and optimism,” said Judge Pearson. “Those sources can most frequently be found in our young people. Today’s ceremony, while unique, is a prime example of how our community can be inspired by the triumphs of our youth.”

The May 8 ceremony resulted in 58 participants from the Prince George’s County community logging on virtually to watch Chief and Administrative Judge Sheila R. Tillerson Adams preside over the graduation of eight participants.

“I am so proud of our dynamic problem-solving court team who would not be deterred by a pandemic or a Stay at Home order,” said Judge Adams. “They found a way to virtually continue with all of the problem-solving courts and to motivate and inspire our participants to stay focused and hopeful during these unprecedented times. I was thrilled to preside over our first ever virtual Adult and Juvenile Problem-Solving Court graduations and to hear the inspirational stories of resilience and finishing strong.”

Prince George's County Circuit Court's problem-solving court virtual commencement ceremony program
The Prince George’s County Circuit Court’s problem-solving courts provided a program for the May 8, 2020, virtual commencement ceremony for Juvenile Drug Court and Truancy Reduction Court.

“I am so proud of our graduates as they showed true grit in navigating their way through this pandemic while continuing to comply with the truancy court process,” said Magistrate Stewart Jones. “I was extremely happy to see the students and families, as well as our partners participating in our first virtual graduation. Everyone deserves the ‘Bravo Award,’” she said.

Problem-Solving Courts Director Julisa Cunningham notes, “I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from our partnering agencies during this virtual graduation. Their participation demonstrated that even during these trying times, the Circuit Court for Prince George’s County’s problem-solving courts remain strong.”

Special guests included State’s Attorney Aisha N. Braveboy, Sheriff Melvin C. High, and Police Chief Henry P. Stawinski. Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks provided the graduates with honorary certificates acknowledging the completion of their programs. Additionally, several Prince George’s County circuit court judges were present, including Judge Karen H. Mason and Judge Peter Killough.

The Prince George’s County Circuit Court Adult Drug Court and Re-Entry Court held a virtual graduation the following week on May 14. The ceremony resulted in 74 participants from the Prince George’s County community logging on virtually. For this ceremony, a joint adult graduation celebrating 11 graduates was officiated by Judge Karen H. Mason, who presides over the Adult Drug Court, Judge Lawrence V. Hill, who presides over the Re-Entry Court, and Judge Beverly J. Woodard, who presides over the Veterans Court.

“In darkness, even a glint of light stands out and can illuminate the sky. The 2020 Adult Drug Court graduates bring light and hope,” said Judge Karen H. Mason.

“Our graduates have shown that second chances have a place in our judiciary,” said Judge Lawrence V. Hill. “They completed a rigorous program that culminated with an unforeseen pandemic. As a result, our community benefits.”

“The words of appreciation and hope for the future expressed by the graduates made the ceremony both inspiring and special,” said Judge Beverly J. Woodard. “It was a shining example of how problem-solving courts make a positive difference in our community.”

Virtual graduations serve as a communal pathway to uplift the spirits of the participants and their families during these trying times. Julisa Cunningham reflects, “Graduations represent the closing of one chapter in our participants’ lives and a new beginning.”

The next graduation is scheduled for November 2020.

Prince George's County Circuit Court's Adult Drug Court and Re-Entry Court Virtual Graduation
Graduates, families, local residents, and staff tune into the virtual graduation for the Prince George’s County Circuit Court Adult Drug Court and Re-Entry Court on May 14, 2020.
 

 

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(June 2, 2020)