July 26, 2011 10:51:00 AM
The 16th Circuit District Drug Court started accepting referrals of non-violent first-time offenders this past week at the start of the Clay County Circuit Court term.
The program will progress to Oktibbeha, Lowndes and Noxubee counties during the next several months as circuit court terms begin in those counties.
Drug Courts seek to rehabilitate drug-using offenders through drug treatment and intense supervision with frequent court appearances and random drug testing. Drug Courts offer the incentive of a chance to remain out of jail and be employed and the sanction of a prison sentence if participants fail to remain drug-free and in compliance with all program requirements.
Circuit Judge Lee J. Howard will supervise the Drug Court program.
Howard said the treatment-based Drug Court gives him an alternative to sending drug-dependent offenders to prison.
"For years we''ve tried everything to reduce the number of drug dependencies, serious addictions and abuse," Howard said. "So far, nothing has worked."
The most recent statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice estimate that drug use or abuse is a factor in 80 percent of serious crimes committed in the United States, Howard said. "Anything that can help reduce that number is going to be beneficial."
The Drug Court is expected to be able to eventually accommodate up to 100 participants, said 16th Circuit District Drug Court Coordinator April Edwards.
Participants accepted into the 16th Circuit District Drug Court program will be required to plead guilty to their charge, complete a drug treatment program and remain under the supervision of the court for three to five years. The earliest one could expect to complete the program is within three years, Edwards said. People with more severe addiction problems may be enrolled in the program for up to five years.
Intensive drug treatment is the first of five phases of the program. "You have to get them drug free first before you can start working on the other treatment techniques," Howard said. "Once you get them in there and get them cleaned up, they start thinking more clearly. You have to get them cleaned up so that they can make good decisions."