For the newest member of the Frederick County State’s Attorney’s Office, sentencing can actually be a positive start to the day.
Lindsay Barnhart, the community and diversion programs legal office associate, spent part of Tuesday morning in the courthouse for the sentencing of a drug treatment court participant. The moment marked the man’s completion of drug court — one of the diversion programs Barnhart oversees — and, hopefully, the start to a new chapter in life.
“He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do, passed with flying colors,” Barnhart said. “It’s time to focus on the positive aspects of his life and move forward and start giving back to the community.”
Like the drug court participant Barnhart saw that morning, she hopes to see diversion program participants in a better light down the road.
To bring Barnhart on board to coordinate nine diversion/community programs, the state’s attorney’s office recently created a county-funded, full-time position.
“There has been a great deal of focus in recent years on alternatives to incarceration and addressing root causes of crime such as mental illness and substance use,” State’s Attorney’s Office spokesman Will Cockey said. “In having a full-time coordinator to manage our vast array of programs tailored to various populations, we expect growth and greater success moving forward.”
“With a growing number of programs, we saw a need for expansion,” Cockey said. “Adding a full-time position has two key benefits: centralizing all community and diversion program coordination and allowing that person the time to focus on growth. We believe that these programs serve an essential purpose of decreasing recidivism, reducing costly incarceration which saves taxpayer money, and improving public safety.”
Though Barnhart isn’t an attorney, she has experience in the legal realm. Previously, she worked as a Circuit Court clerk in Montgomery County and for an insurance defense firm in the Rockville area. Barnhart describes her new role as a liaison between treatment courts and prosecutors. She likened her job to that of a case manager.
In addition to drug court, she oversees mental health court, which is geared toward defendants with mental illness charged with low-level offenses who want to seek treatment as an alternative to the usual court process. She estimates mental health court has about 15 participants compared to roughly 30 participants in drug court.
There’s also a diversion program geared toward youth. Within the Juvenile Entry Diversion Initiative, known as JEDI, first-time youthful offenders undergo 90 days of community work and restorative practice programming aimed at keeping them out of the criminal justice system. In the end, those who successfully complete JEDI can keep their records clean. In 2020, the state’s attorney’s office saw 23 JEDI cases closed successfully.
“I really think people deserve a second chance,” Barnhart told the News-Post a little over a month into her new job. “I think that having programs established in Frederick County specifically kind of gives them that outlet that, you know, some other jurisdictions maybe don’t have to offer them. ... Sometimes people just need a little bit of help or a guiding hand to find their way.”
Barnhart also serves as a liaison and case manager for the Truancy Reduction Council, Youthful Offender Program, Drug Overdose Fatality Review Team, Substance Exposed Newborns Task Force, Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, and Families Impacted by Incarceration Program.
Being involved in so many groups, Barnhart’s days are filled with court appearances, field referrals, meetings, background checks for potential program participants, and more. She says it’s the type of work she’s passionate about.
“I’ve seen so many people just go down the wrong path,” Barnhart said, leading her to wonder whether those people’s lives could have been changed if they had opportunities like what Frederick County offers.
She recognizes the cycle of charging and jailing a person over and over again may not be what’s best for them or the community.
“They need something to break that cycle and actually address the problem, whatever that problem might be — substance abuse, mental illness, a combination of the two — so that we can get to the root cause of it, and hopefully get them the treatment they need, so that they can stop offending and kind of get off that carousel of incarceration,” Barnhart said. “We want them to be productive members of the community.”
Though Barnhart says she’s still getting her feet wet and learning, she’s looking forward to the future.
“I’m excited about what the diversion programs can be in Frederick County,” she said. “I’m excited to expand them. I’m excited to work with the members of this community to offer Frederick County residents what they need.”