Proposed drug court would route offenders to treatment

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 17, 2004

NATCHEZ &045;&045; It may not be long before drug offenders have an alternative to jail in Adams County.

Circuit Court Judge Lillie Blackmon Sanders and a team of volunteers are working to establish a drug court based on the successes of similar courts across the country.

Even though things are still in the planning stage, Sanders said she hopes to have to court running by the end of the month.

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In the proposed drug court participants would appear before the judge once a week to account for their behavior. They would receive weekly drug tests, and if they refused a test or tested positive for drugs they would spend 10 days in jail. The program would last from one to three years for each participant.

Sanders said other judges had prompted her to start a drug court in the past, but she was afraid of the time it would take.

&uot;Now I say, ‘Why did I wait so long? I should have done it three years ago,’&uot; Sanders said. &uot;The more I read about drug court and looked at the economic impact of drugs in the community, the more I knew we just had to do it.&uot;

Seventy percent of criminal cases that appear before a judge have something to do with drugs or alcohol, Sanders said.

&uot;If we can save three out of 10 and make them productive citizens we would be successful,&uot; Sanders said.

Natchez Police Chief Mike Mullins said he attended a meeting Friday to determine the police department’s involvement.

&uot;I’m excited about it,&uot; he said. &uot;I think it is effective and I’m excited to see a new program that is an attempt to change the behavior of drug abusers rather than incarceration only.&uot;

The team of volunteers Sanders assembled will attend a training session in March to qualify them to work with a drug court. The team includes a treatment coordinator, a researcher, a defense attorney, a prosecutor, a probation officer and several people responsible for gathering statistics and working with the community.

At this point there is no funding for the drug court. No one involved will be paid for their work. &uot;Right now we have absolutely nothing,&uot; Sanders said. &uot;We hope to get money through grants, private donations, foundations and we will be asking the city and county for funding.&uot;

Sanders said she plans to start the court small, with no more than 10 participants. She already has three people she sentenced to probation in mind for the court. Her other goals include getting community groups and organizations to adopt a drug court defendant to help hold them accountable and find good jobs, she said.

&uot;It’s a worthy cause,&uot; she said. &uot;To see someone who has been cleaned up, it’s just amazing to see.&uot;

As the judge in drug court, Sanders role would be very involved with the participants. Prior to each weekly court meeting the drug court team would discuss the progress of each defendant. During court each defendant would stand before the judge for critique, Sanders said.

&uot;I meet with them, eyeball them and ask them questions. They are being monitored 24/7, it’s babysitting to a degree.&uot;