Montgomery County officials announced yesterday that drunk drivers will no longer be assigned to work in county-owned liquor stores when they enter a program that allows first-time offenders to perform community service work instead of receiving a criminal record.
The announcement by Montgomery County Chief Administrative Officer Lewis T. Roberts followed publication of a story in The Washington Post yesterday that drunk drivers and others charged with misdemeanors were routinely assigned to perform community service work in county liquor stores.
The practice, in which individuals were ordered to work up to 600 hours stocking shelves, bagging bottles of liquor and performing other chores, was criticized by representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Washington Area Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse and Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
Roberts, who oversees day-to-day operations of the county government, said in a telephone call to The Post yesterday that the program was being discontinued in the county's liquor department.
First-time offenders charged with misdemeanors in the county's District Court are usually referred to the county's Alternative Community Service program where they are assigned to perform community service work with nonprofit community groups and county government agencies.
Last year, 225 first-time offenders performed 2,400 hours of work in the county liquor department, saving the county $15,000 in labor costs. Since January, eight persons charged with drunk driving or driving under the influence of alcohol have been assigned to work in the liquor department along with 16 others charged with drug or other alcohol-related offenses.
Roberts' directive applies to those charged with alcohol-related driving offenses. Whether the liquor department will be ruled off-limits to other offenders is under study, said Edmond F. Rovner, special assistant to County Executive Charles Gilchrist. Most offenders in the program are charged with other crimes, he noted.
In all, 139 offenders have been assigned to work in the liquor department out of 988 people processed through the program this year.
About half were assigned to nonprofit groups and half worked in other goverment agencies, such as the public libraries and the transportation department, said Maury Ward, the program director.
The biggest demand for community service workers in the liquor department occurs on holidays, when the demand for liquor rises sharply, Ward said.
The county program was established in 1977 and now nearly every jurisdiction in Maryland as well as major jursdictions in the Washington area have community service programs, according to state and local officials. The Maryland General Assembly this year passed a law requiring a mandatory 80 hours of community service work or 48 hours in jail for all second-time drunk driving offenders.
Other jurisdictions assign offenders to work in public libraries, pick up litter or perform special duties suited to their background.
Montgomery is the only county in the nation with its own wholesale and retail liquor operation.