Youth says drug court turned his life around

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 16, 2003

Few people would see ending up in court as a positive experience. But at least one Natchez teenager sees it as a turning point in his life, one that kept him from going down the hard road of drug addiction. Now 17, the soft-spoken young man started smoking marijuana with an older cousin when he was just 15. &uot;Before, I used to play board games with my parents, stuff like that. After I started smoking, I’d just go straight to my room and stay there,&uot; said Jeremy (not his real name). But a disagreement with fellow students at school led him to be sentenced in Adams County Youth Court with accessory to theft. &uot;I thought all that would happen to me is I would get sent to jail for a couple of days,&uot; he said. It was then that Judge John Hudson questioned the young man about his drug use &045; and sentenced him to a south Mississippi drug treatment facility as part of a &uot;drug court&uot; program.

Jeremy is convinced that the drug court program’s combination of treatment, extracurricular activities, regular court appearances and close supervision have turned his life around.

&uot;Drugs aren’t good for you, and down the line you’re going to get caught,&uot; he reasoned. &uot;Drugs and the law, they go together.&uot;

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Under the drug court program, non-violent juvenile offenders with drug and alcohol problems will appear in court every two weeks to monitor their progress in treatment programs, school and other court-mandated programs.

Offenders are sentenced to inpatient or outpatient treatment programs and also may be ordered to attend meetings of support groups.

Staff members of the Adolescent Offender Program work with treatment and support group representatives to make sure juveniles are sticking with the program. Those in the drug court program are also tested every week for drug use.

A Natchez police officer also visits the homes of program participants throughout the weeks to make sure they are not out past curfew &045; and can even give them surprise drug tests and alcohol sensor tests.

Adams County Youth Court’s juvenile drug court program, the first in the state, was established with the help of a grant from the state Attorney General’s Office and continues with a four-year, $500,000 federal grant.

The program, which Hudson hopes to build up to 30 participants, has had 15 participants, with only one failing the program during its one-and-a-half-year history.

Those who think the drug court program sounds like a touchy-feely approach to crime better think again, Hudson said.

True, those who stick with the program get not only praise, but also receive rewards that can range from restaurant coupons to sports equipment.

But if they don’t stick to drug court guidelines, they could face sanctions that include a stint at a training school.

&uot;The rewards are swift, but the sanctions are just as swift,&uot; Hudson said. &uot;The idea is that this kid has an opportunity to change his life without going to prison while still being accountable for his actions.&uot;

Besides, it costs thousands of dollars to send a youth to training school &045; and then, if his life of crime continues, to state prison, Hudson said. Meanwhile, society is losing a potentially productive member, a person for whom drugs are still a problem.

&uot;The focus of an adult drug court is treatment, because many times they’re already addicted,&uot; Hudson said.

&uot;With juveniles, many aren’t addicted yet, so the focus is prevention. They’re well on their way to becoming addicts, but we can catch them early.&uot;

For that, Jeremy is grateful. He now spends time in extracurricular activities through the AOP and at home, once again, with his parents. And best of all, he said, he’s drug-free.

&uot;All drugs were doing,&uot; he said, &uot;was getting me in trouble.&uot;

City Editor Nita McCann can be reached at (601) 445-3550, or by

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