View Full Version : Officials call for drug courts statewide

01-28-2003, 06:36 PM
System could save more than $5 million a year, auditor says
By Jimmie E. Gates

The state could save more than $5 million annually by going to a statewide drug court system that seeks treatment over incarceration, state Auditor Phil Bryant said Monday.

Bryant, flanked by court officials and legislators at the state Capitol, called for the creation of such a program.

"We are simply stating, from a financial position, the drug court system, if properly implemented, will save taxpayer dollars," Bryant said.

Bryant said an audit done by his office on the feasibility of extending drug courts statewide shows it costs roughly $16,757 annually to house a convicted drug offender in the Mississippi Department of Corrections.

It costs about $5,000 a year to put an offender through the drug court program.

Based on an estimated 500 participants, the state would save about $5.3 million to $5.4 million annually.

The statewide system would be modeled after drug courts already in three of the state's 22 Circuit Court districts.

Drug court programs give defendants convicted of possession of drugs a second chance through treatment over incarceration.

The drug charge is dismissed if the defendants successfully complete the program, which can last for two years. But they could end up serving prison time if they don't successfully complete the program.

State Supreme Court Justice Jim Smith said the court "wholeheartedly endorses statewide drug courts. These programs work."

State Supreme Court Chief Justice Edwin Pittman also has called for the creation of a statewide drug court program.

Key legislators say they will push to create the system. Bills are pending in the Legislature for consideration.

State Rep. Robert Clark, D-Ebenezer, said drugs create unproductive citizens, while drug courts help develop citizens.

"It does not cost; it pays," Clark said. "We will do all we can to make it a reality."

It will cost about $475,000 to start a statewide drug court program, according to the audit. Judges already on the bench would run the programs.

State Rep. Jim Barnett, a doctor from Brookhaven, said he has seen the drug court started by Circuit Judge Keith Starrett of McComb in action.

"It saves lives and money," Barnett said. "It's a wonderful program."

The first drug court was started by Starrett in Lincoln, Walthall and Pike counties in 1999.

There also are drug courts in Hinds County and one that serves Leflore, Sunflower and Washington counties. Ridgeland city court also has a program.