Judges, D.A. applaud passage of drug court legislation

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 3, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; Judges and other who work closely with the area’s court system on Wednesday applauded the passing of a bill to create a statewide system to oversee drug courts.

Under Senate Bill 2605, which was sent Wednesday to Gov. Ronnie Musgrove for his signature, the state’s Administrative Office of the Courts would oversee a statewide drug court program.

In such courts, many non-violent offenders with drug and/or alcohol problems could be diverted to treatment programs instead of prison. If they failed drug tests or failed to meet other court-set standards, those offenders could face prison time.

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The bill does not provide funding for drug courts and does not mandate that courts establish such programs.

But it does help insure that all drug courts meet the same standards, and it gives both the AOC and the courts themselves the authority to seek funding such as grants, said Adams County Youth Court Judge John Hudson.

Hudson, whose court already has a drug program in place, was one of several judges who traveled to Jackson during the legislative session to help work out details of the bill. By directing offenders to programs that treat their underlying drug problems, drug courts reduce the rate of repeat offenders and, therefore, save taxpayers money in the long run, Hudson said.

&uot;Drug courts across the nation and Mississippi have demonstrated that costs can be diminished,&uot; Hudson said. &uot;But the fact is, this also changes lives.&uot;

Offenders in drug court programs are given strict supervision, so they know that if they violate the programs’ rules, sanctions will be swift &045; and, if they stay on the straight and narrow, rewards will also be swift, Hudson said.

District Attorney Ronnie Harper is the first to say that those with violent offenses and those who sell drugs should be prosecuted vigorously &045; but he also sees situations a drug court could help.

&uot;You have to be very strict in how you operate it,&uot; he said. &uot;But anything we can do to try to solve this drug problem that we have, I’m in favor of any methods to try to approach that.&uot;

Sixth District Circuit Court Judge Forrest &uot;Al&uot; Johnson said he plans to discuss with fellow Judge Lillie Blackmon Sanders the possibility of establishing a drug court for the 6th District.

&uot;I first want to look at it to see what resources are available to help implement this,&uot; Johnson said. &uot;Obviously, we want to do what we can to try to take full advantage of this.

&uot;I believe a lot of positive things can come from drug court. There are some individuals that should be diverted from the penitentiary system and could become productive citizens.&uot;