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

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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’s attorney, John Alsop, said the ASAP program has been needed for years.

“It’s long overdue here. Abby is a good candidate for that. She’s tried hard to deal with her addiction and she’s getting some support,” Alsop said. “The idea of locking people up for this hasn’t been very helpful. You can lock up the dealers and people that are bringing it in, but give these people a chance to clean up.

“I think she knew when she hit bottom and decided to pull herself out of it. I give her a lot of credit for doing this and the jail people — Teresa Brown up at the jail really went to bat for her — have been terrific,” Alsop said. “She wanted to get this done and did a good job.”

A win-win

Maloney said Fowler could have pleaded guilty to the felony drug charge and been sentenced to 90 days in jail.

“Under normal circumstances, that would have been the end of the story,” Maloney said. “Instead, she entered this program; and instead of 90 days in jail, she will spend one year in mental health and substance abuse treatment. Instead of losing her job, she gets to keep it. Instead of being away from her two children, ages 3 and 5, she’s able to continue to see them.”

Maloney said the community is safer if Fowler and others like her get treatment, as opposed to being locked up, then coming out having lost everything. Maloney said she first tried to establish a drug court in Skowhegan, as seen elsewhere in Maine, but the lack of available judges prevented that.

Maloney said the philosophy of the ASAP program is the same as the philosophy of the veterans and co-occurring disorders courts recently established in Kennebec County.

“The philosophy is if you give someone a chance but have a large hammer hanging over the person’s head if they don’t comply, that they’re actually more likely to be successful,” Maloney said. “She really does want to be successful. She doesn’t want to have heroin to be a part of her life anymore, and we believe she’ll be successful at that.”

Under the terms of the program agreement, Fowler must comply with the following provisions:

• mental health counseling and substance abuse treatment, to include weekly meetings at Kennebec Behavioral Health for the duration of the program;

• following the recommendations of her mental health counselor and the program coordinator at the sheriff’s office;

• engaging in weekly community service, full-time work or school;

• refraining from use or possession of alcohol or illegal drugs;

• agreement to random search and testing for drugs and alcohol; and

• attendance at monthly meetings with the ASAP team.

Fowler said she has learned that recovery is more than just taking the drugs away.

She said she had to fix what’s inside of her — the behavior, the thought process, the compulsion and the obsession. Spending time in jail doesn’t stop the causes of drug and alcohol abuse; it just takes them away for a couple of months, she said.

She said the move has brought her and her family closer together.

“I distanced myself from them,” she said. “I didn’t see what was really going on. All along they would have been there for me if I had just reached out.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367 dharlow@centralmaine.com Twitter: @Doug_Harlow
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