February 26

New program gives Somerset County drug offenders a chance

Based on the success of co-occuring disorders and veterans courts in Kennebec County, District Attorney Maeghan Maloney’s program gives a plea deal to its first participant.

By Doug Harlow dharlow@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

SKOWHEGAN — It took Abby Fowler nearly half a lifetime to plead guilty to heroin possession.

click image to enlarge

ALTERNATIVE SENTENCING: Abby Fowler, of Skowhegan, speaks on Wednesday in a conference room outside the Skowhegan District Court room after a hearing in which she was the first defendant sentenced in the Alternative Substance Abuse Program.

Staff photo by David Leaming

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NEW PROGRAM: Maeghan Maloney, district attorney for Kennebec and Somerset counties, speaks about the new Alternative Substance Abuse Program on Wednesday after a hearing with the first defendant at Skowhegan District Court. At left is Dale Lancaster, chief deputy of the Somerset Sheriff’s Department; and attorney John Alsop, who represented Abby Fowler, the first participant in the program.

Staff photo by David Leaming

Fowler, 25, addicted to opiates and alcohol since she was 12, stood before a judge Wednesday as the first participant in Maine in the Alternative Substance Abuse Program.

The charge against her is a felony; but under the new program developed by Kennebec and Somerset Counties District Attorney Maeghan Maloney, the Somerset County Sheriff’s Department and other state agencies, Fowler can withdraw the guilty plea in one year in exchange for a conviction on a lesser misdemeanor charge and will do no jail time.

All the mother of two young children has to do is comply with the provisions of the program that Maloney calls “ASAP.”

If she fails the program, Fowler will be sentenced on the felony charge to four years in prison, with all but one year suspended, and two years’ probation.

If she succeeds, her record will be free of a felony conviction.

“It’s been a year in the making,” Maloney said of the program. “We’ve come together to try to find a solution to the drug problem we have in Somerset County. This is the first time we have established a program like this and she is our first participant.”

something clicked

Fowler, who grew up in Norridgewock and now lives in Skowhegan, said the day of her arrest in October was the first day of her recovery.

“I’m so grateful that it happened, I really am; because if it didn’t, I’d still be in that vicious cycle. It was finally my out,” she said. “That’s when it started to click. It’s definitely hard, but I’m learning that if it’s not hard, it’s not worth it.”

Fowler dropped out of high school when she was a freshman, then went to an alternative school in Portland and dropped out again. She already had been drinking alcohol and consuming opiates for a few years by then.

“Addiction was all around me. My dad was an addict and an alcoholic,” she said. “I was an addict all along, but it’s all interpretation whether I was recreationally using or I had an every-day addiction.”

She said Oct. 9 was the last day she used drugs or alcohol.

She chose to enter the ASAP program when she realized how out of control her life had become. She said there was no personal accountability until she met Sgt. Teresa Brown at the Somerset County Jail and started going to meetings for substance abuse.

‘give people a chance’

Maloney said Fowler has no criminal history as an adult and has been drug-free since October, making her an ideal candidate for the new program. Fowler’s name was suggested to Maloney by people at the sheriff’s department and the jail, including Brown, who worked with Fowler on her road to getting clean and sober, Maloney said.

Fowler also agreed to run Narcotics Anonymous meetings in Madison while out on bail awaiting trial on the drug charge.

“She seemed like someone who made a mistake and is trying to correct it,” Maloney said.

Dale Lancaster, chief deputy at the sheriff’s department, is a member of the group that established the program, along with health and human services advocates, family violence and behavioral health workers.

“We have usually 70 or 80 people from Somerset County in our jail on any given day, and I think we need to offer them something so we can reduce recidivism,” Lancaster said. “It’s a cost savings to the county and it helps the communities if we are able to help someone, give them a hand up.”

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