AUGUSTA — Kennebec County District Attorney Maeghan Maloney and Kennebec County Sheriff Ken Mason spoke about the Co-Occurring Disorders and Veterans Court and alternatives to incarceration during a presentation Wednesday at the University of Maine at Augusta.

The free talk was part of a new speaker series hosted by the school’s Justice Studies Department.

The Co-Occurring Disorders and Veterans Court, based in Augusta, was started in 2005 for individuals with significant substance abuse disorders, mental illness and serious criminal charges. It provides intensive judicial monitoring, case management, specialized treatment and other services.

The program’s goals, according to Maloney, include promoting recovery from substance abuse and mental illness, the development of social skills, and improving public safety through reducing future criminal behavior. The minimum duration for participation in the program is one year, and the average person completes the program in 18 to 23 months.

Participants in the program meet weekly with a judge and meet multiple times per week with an assigned case manager. They also undergo frequent and random drug and alcohol testing and receive intensive outpatient treatment. Case managers assist patients in securing safe and affordable housing and obtaining access to employment and educational opportunities. There is a nightly curfew and officers make random, unannounced home visits.

In order to be in this program, Maloney said, a person must move to Kennebec County and live close enough to the courthouse so that officers can administer random drug tests and perform home visits. She said this is prohibitive for a lot of people, and it is one of the reasons why she’d like more such programs around Maine.

“We want people to learn how to handle stress without relying on a substance,” Maloney said. “We want to see someone who’s turned their life around before they graduate.

“We’re there to help them put all of that together, because there’s a lot of requirements,” she said.

Maloney said not one veteran graduate of the program has committed another crime, and sometimes a veteran comes back from serving overseas and just needs to be reminded of who he or she is.

The cost of an inmate participating in drug court is about $23,000 per year — less for veterans court because the Department of Veterans Affairs pays for a portion of the treatment — while it costs $42,000 to keep an inmate in the Maine State Prison for a year.

“If we could just find the political will to move the money from the prison system, we could see tremendous results,” Maloney said.

Maloney and Mason opened the forum by talking for about 30 minutes about alternatives to incarceration. In Kennebec County, the sheriff’s office has run four alternative sentencing programs since Mason took office last year.

“It’s an alternative to going to jail, because putting people in our jail creates an overcrowding problem,” Mason said.

The programs have been held over weekends in places around central Maine, and it allows people who were facing jail sentences of seven days or less to pay $200 and work in the community rather than go to jail. The most recent program was held at a children’s summer camp in West Gardiner. Participants cleaned the camp, painted, cooked their own food and worked on the grounds as an alternative to being behind bars.

“They do the work and then we don’t see them in the criminal justice system again,” Maloney said.

Mason believes in the alternative sentencing program in part because it worked for his son, who Mason said decided to play “mailbox baseball” 15 years ago in Belgrade while he was a senior in high school. Mason said his son admitted his guilt, and rather than hire an attorney at a high cost, his son agreed to the alternative sentencing program.

“Cops’ kids aren’t immune to doing stupid things,” Mason said. “He’s very successful and he gave me a grandson.”

Mason and Maloney said these alternative programs and courts wouldn’t be successful without the collaboration between the district attorney’s office and the sheriff’s office. Maloney said it’s up to her to recommend a person to the program, and Mason has to decide whether to run it.

“If we didn’t work together, none of these programs would exist,” Maloney said.

Mason said the two offices continue to work together to get better in offering these programs, and he said it’s up to them to look at what is and isn’t working.

The school plans to host Warden Randall Liberty, of the Maine State Prison, on Nov. 29. Liberty, a former Kennebec County sheriff, will discuss innovative corrections programs at the prison. The press release said presentations and discussions on the opioid crisis, the Legislature and navigating veterans programs and benefits are scheduled for next year.

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ

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