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03-13-2005, 03:43 PM
MS - New drug courts on docket

By Jimmie E. Gates
jgates@clarionledger.com (jgates@clarionledger.com)



Boland


Jackson and Hinds County officials are seeking to save money and alter
nonviolent drug and alcohol offenders' lives by creating a drug court in both
jurisdictions.

"If we can intervene in one person's life, we will make a difference," Hinds
County District 1 Justice Court Judge Nicki Boland said. "In almost every
misdemeanor, there is an alcohol and drug problem at the base of it. Just paying a
fine to Hinds County doesn't do anything to solve the problem."

Boland is spearheading the effort to bring a drug court to Hinds County
Justice Court. The program would divert a person with misdemeanor drug and alcohol
charges to a treatment program instead of jail. If successful, the offender
could have his record cleared. But a violation would send the person to jail.
City and county officials involved in the efforts are participating in a
year-long training program conducted by the National Drug Court Institute in
Virginia. Completing the program is one step to gaining an accredited program.

Drug courts have become a trend nationally to decrease recidivism among
criminals, save money and keep individuals in treatment longer. There are roughly
1,200 drug court programs throughout the country and 13 drug court programs
operating in the state.
A model drug court system includes early drug testing and screening, judicial
monitoring, probation supervision, treatment and rehabilitation services for
those returned to the community under court control, according to the National
Drug Court Institute.

Jackson Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr. proposed a misdemeanor drug court in
Municipal Court. City policy adviser Karen Quay said it's too early to know details
of how a city drug court would operate and the funding requirements.

Boland also said specifics have yet to be determined for the Justice Court
drug program. She has an eight-person team to develop the county's drug court
plan. The committee includes law enforcement, attorneys, treatment providers and
others. The judge is looking for individuals to join a public steering
committee for the proposed drug court.
State funding of up to $50,000 a year is available for drug courts in
Municipal and Justice courts, said Joey Craft, state Administrative Office of Courts
Project manager.

Municipal Judge David Rozier has agreed to hear the cases in the city's
program. "I believe they (drug courts) work by getting people off of drugs and
making them productive," Rozier said.
Ferlanda Lewis, who is scheduled to graduate April 5 from Hinds County
(felony) Drug Court Diversion program, said a misdemeanor drug court would help.
"Most people don't commit a felony on the first offense," Lewis said.

The programs will save money by diverting inmates from the 594-inmate
capacity Hinds County Detention Center and freeing up space for violent offenders,
Rozier said.

"It's the best program I have ever seen for turning people's lives around,"
said former Circuit Judge Keith Starrett, who started the first felony drug
court program in the state in Lincoln, Pike and Walthall counties in 1999. "But
you have to be committed and want to do it."
Starrett, now a federal judge, said about a third or more of his time was
spent on drug cases. More than 100 individuals have graduated from the program he
started five years ago.

Lawmakers last year approved increasing assessments on court fines, including
traffic tickets, by $10 to help fund drug courts. The assessment is expected
to generate $5 million a year.
A report by the state auditor's office on extending drug courts statewide
shows it costs the Mississippi Department of Corrections about $16,757 annually
to house a convicted drug offender. It costs about $5,000 a year to put an
offender through the drug court program using findings from the drug court
Starrett created.

Based on an estimated 500 participants, the state would save about $5.3
million to $5.4 million annually, according to the auditor's report.


Hinds County Justice Court had 12,980 criminal cases in 2003 and 14,498
criminal cases in 2002. Justice Court officials didn't have the figures broken down
as to how many of those were drug related.
Jackson Municipal Court had 14,492 cases in 2003 and 11,825 in 2002, with
about a third of those cases each year dealing with some type of substance abuse,
court officials said.
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