View Full Version : Library cards keep addicts out of jail

07-06-2003, 06:48 AM
Library cards keep addicts out of jail



LUCEDALE -- Read a book or go to jail.

Participants in the George-Greene County Drug Court program know there's a fine line between their freedom and incarceration.

Thirteen individuals are currently in the program. All were facing jail time for their drug-related crimes. By pleading guilty to their charges and abiding by the rules set forth by Circuit Judge Kathy King Jackson, the participants avoid serving their sentences.

As part of the deal, they must serve two hours a week in community service, have a job or be actively pursuing employment, pass a scheduled and an unscheduled drug test each week, attend one Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous meeting a week, spend an hour a week in a rehabilitation center after-care program, get a GED if they don't have a diploma, read books and spend an hour a week in the library.

Failure to follow the rules means jail time, or additional community service.

Jackson adds activities at her discretion. Recently, while driving to Lucedale from Pascagoula, she decided to have participants make a list of five goals to accomplish before they met again.

William Darden, a construction worker, scratched all five off his list. "They were easy," he told the judge in the courtroom.

"Maybe we need to put more complicated ones on there," she said from the bench.

"I wanted to see if I could get them done first," he said.

Jackson is considering adding parenting classes soon.

Participants must also pay any fines and restitution, and pay $50 a month for administrative fees for the program.

Jackson is tough on them. "The whole purpose is to teach these people how to live responsibly on their own," she said.

Jackson began the program in October with $50,000 in seed money from Attorney General Mike Moore's office. George and Greene counties also pitched in. Donations from organizations and individuals are accepted.

She chose to operate in Lucedale, serving participants from George and Greene counties to start, but wants to implement the program in Jackson County as well. Lack of funding is the biggest hurdle she faces, she said. "Meth was so severe here, and I wanted to see if the program would work on a smaller scale before jumping into Jackson County," she said.

Six participants signed up for drug court in November, and seven more began the program since then. Each person participates in the program for a minimum of two years.

They meet in Lucedale every Thursday morning to face Jackson. The judge calls them by name, asks about their families, inquires about their week, their list, their book. She leans forward on the bench, her chin resting on her hands and listens to each as they speak.

"You're doing good. I'm real proud of you," she tells each one.

Jackson said she enjoys watching the transformation take place with each of the participants. "They're changing right in front of our eyes. Several were their own one- and two-person crime wave in George County," she said. "Some have had a few bumps in the road, but no arrests. I'm very proud of all of them for that."

The program is only open to drug addicts charged with possession. Dealers, or anyone with charges of violent crime or home burglaries, are not allowed to participate.

Participants are recommended by the district attorney's office or by law enforcement officers and then interviewed while on bond. They must plead guilty to their charges and enter a drug addiction recovery program. Then they belong to Jackson for at least two years.

After their graduation, their records are expunged.

"Addiction is a tough thing. Just because I tell them to quit doesn't mean they're going to. If it were that easy it wouldn't be an addiction," Jackson said.

Tonya Darden clutched a copy of John Grisham's The Partner, and looked at her watch. If Jackson didn't finish soon, she'd be late for her job as a cashier at a Pascagoula grocery store.

Darden was arrested in George County for possession of crystal methamphetamine and marijuana, along with her former stepson, William Darden.

The Dardens, who were a couple at the time of their arrest, are not allowed to associate with each other, Jackson said.

Tonya Darden, who had lived in Agricola, moved to Pascagoula to get a new start. "I had to get away from here," she said.

She had been arrested for possession and manufacturing crystal meth twice, but both times had been released immediately. On the third arrest her bond was revoked and she served six months in George County jail.

The drug court program has helped her start getting her life back together, she said.

She lost custody of her three daughters, but is now allowed supervised visitation with them at her parents' home. She goes back to court next month to request unsupervised visitation.

Without the program, Darden would be serving a 25-year sentence in prison. "I would have went right back to what I was doing," she said. "This was my last chance."

Darden incurred Jackson's wrath when she missed a meeting without calling. The judge gave her 25 extra hours of community service for the infraction. Jackson said she's not a "bleeding heart" and has to be tough on the participants, but also cares about each one's success.

"If I had to give an A' for effort, it would be Tonya," she said.

Darden anticipates a full recovery from her addiction and plans to regain her place in society. "It's hard. It's tough. But there's a lot of people praying for me," she said.

Joanna Byrd, Drug Court coordinator, said most of the participants have similar stories. "Everybody in this program is a good and decent person. They're not thugs," she said.

"It's the best thing going for true rehabilitation," said Mark Maples, George County prosecuting attorney.