Drug Court completes statewide system

From Press Reports

The creation of a drug court for the Fifth Circuit Court District
completes statewide coverage of drug courts in Mississippi. All 22
Circuit Court districts now operate drug courts.

Circuit judges Joseph Loper of Ackerman and Clarence E. Morgan III of
Kosciusko will use the drug treatment and intensive supervision
program for qualifying people facing charges in Attala, Carroll,
Choctaw, Grenada, Montgomery, Webster and Winston counties.

Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr., who has
pushed for statewide coverage of drug courts, said, “I think it’s a
great day for the citizens of Mississippi that drug courts are now
available in every judicial district of the state. The cost savings
are significant, but the difference it makes in the lives of the
participants and their families is the reason they are successful.”

State Drug Court Coordinator Joey Craft said, “With this new program
comes new opportunities for those living in the seven counties of the
Fifth Circuit. Those who find themselves trapped in the revolving
door of the criminal justice system and drug addiction will have a
chance to break that cycle.”

Fifth Circuit Drug Court Coordinator David Bain of Kosciusko said, “A
lot of good people wind up in a situation where they are not strong
enough. We are going to try to give them the tools they need.”

Offers Incentive
Drug courts are special courts that address crimes committed by
people addicted to drugs or alcohol. Drug courts may accept people
charged with drug possession or non-violent property crimes.

Drug courts seek to rehabilitate drug-using offenders through drug
treatment and intensive supervision with frequent court appearances
and random drug testing. Drug courts offer the incentive of a chance
to remain out of jail and be employed. Participants who fail to
remain drug-free and in compliance with all program requirements face
the sanction of a prison sentence.

After completing drug treatment, participants will meet with one of
the judges every two weeks to report on their progress. Participants
are subject to random drug testing. They must participate in a self-
help program such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous
twice a week. They must have a job or be in school. If they don’t
have a high school diploma, they must enroll in General Education
Development classes.

Deters Relapses
Drug Court, with its intensive supervision, will deter relapses.
“It’s a way of holding people accountable,” Loper said. “If you don’t
have somebody following them, it’s easy to slide or slip off the wagon.”

Bain and Probation Officer Michael Ming of Louisville will make house
calls as well as require participants to come to the Drug Court
office in Kosciusko for testing.

Morgan, who has been on the bench for 17 years, said, “I’ve been
putting folks into rehab since I’ve been a judge. Drug Court is a
more extensive program, a lengthier program, and I think we will have
more success.”

One of the difficulties facing the program is the size of the seven-
county district. That was one of the issues that made the judges
reluctant to start a program. “It’s 90 miles from Grenada to Winston
County, which provides some logistical problems, not for judges but
for the people who have to come to court,” Morgan said.

The Drug Court may alternate sites for holding court.

“If we are determined to make it work, then it will work,” said
Loper. He also said, “I’ve heard of great success in other places and
I’m hopeful we will have the same success with our Drug Court that
I’ve seen others talk about throughout the state. I hope that it will
not only rehabilitate and make better citizens of the people in the
court, but that it will also save the taxpayers’ money.”

‘Excellent Tool’
Commissioner of Corrections Chris Epps, a member of the Mississippi
Drug Court Advisory Committee, said he welcomes the expansion to
statewide coverage. Drug courts reduce the prison population. It’s
much cheaper to supervise people in drug courts.

Epps said, “Generally a drug court can be operated with $1,500 a year
(per person), vs. $15,151.15 a year for housing an inmate.”

Craft estimates that adult drug courts produce an annual savings of
about $38 million.

Epps said, “Drug court is an excellent tool for users. It allows the
person to be treated and at the same time to maintain family ties. On
some occasions, it allows the participants to continue to support
their families.”

More than 3,350 people are enrolled in drug courts statewide,
including adult and juvenile programs. Mississippi currently has 44
drug courts. In addition to 22 Circuit Court drug courts, the state
has 15 juvenile programs, five misdemeanor-level programs and two
family treatment courts.
Three people have been accepted into the Fifth Circuit District Drug
Court program since it began in early January. Morgan said he expects
that the program can accommodate up to 30 people in its first year.

The Fifth Circuit program is funded by $118,000 from the state
Administrative Office of Courts. Attala County will handle Drug Court
finances and be reimbursed by AOC.