Gartin Building Courtroom with the Great Seal of the State of Mississippi

Madison County operates juvenile drug court

July 23, 2004

The Madison County Youth Court has become the second in the state to operate a juvenile Drug Court.

The program began accepting participants two months ago. Six youths are enrolled in the first phase of a three-part program that will last at least a year.

The Madison County Juvenile Drug Court seeks to identify juveniles whose behavior is related to alcohol or drug abuse. The Drug Court accepts juveniles 12 through 17 who have either been charged with nonviolent delinquent acts or deemed to be children in need of supervision. Although drug or alcohol possession landed several of the participants in Youth Court, the act which brings them into contact with the Youth Court does not have to be a drug or alcohol violation.

Parents must agree to their children's participation in the program.

Madison County Judge William Agin, who presides over the Drug Court, said, "It has to be voluntary on the part of the parents, but not necessarily on the part of the child. If the parents are not going to cooperate, we concluded that our chances of being successful are not very good."

Judge Agin said he has seen juveniles whose involvement with cocaine and other hard drugs started at age 14.

Judge Agin said, "Because of that lifestyle, the chances of them committing a crime are increased. If we can get them away from drugs, the chances of them going to jail are greatly reduced."

Drug Court uses early intervention and intensive supervision to deter drug use and prevent criminal behavior.

Although inpatient treatment is not part of the Drug Court program, Judge Agin will order treatment if it's needed.

Phase One in the Drug Court program is six months of weekly court sessions and weekly drug testing. Participants and their parents meet with Judge Agin, Case Manager Sue Allen, Youth Court Prosecutor Hazel Cunningham and Public Defender Dolan Self. The city of Madison donates the use of its municipal courtroom.

The court sessions, like all matters in Youth Court, are conducted in a closed courtroom.

The judge, case manager, prosecutor and public defender along with psychologist Bill Ueleke and retired dentist Allen Roark review each participant's progress in a separate staffing session before the weekly Drug Court meeting.

Participants also meet separately in their homes with the case manager each week.

During Phase Two, which will last at least three months, participants will attend court sessions twice a month, as well as meet with the case manager and be drug tested twice a month. In Phase Three, which also will last three months, participants will go to court, meet with the case manager and be drug tested monthly.

Madison Police Sgt. Eddie Lawrence and Ridgeland Police Sgt. Gary Davis are the field officers for the Drug Court. They check up on participants to make sure they are in compliance with program rules.

Sarah Beard, Ph.D., head of the Department of Human Services's Adolescent Offender Program for Madison County, is director of the Drug Court.

Judge Agin said, "For those teenagers who have problems with drugs and alcohol and for which regular Youth Court probation would not be successful, we hope the highly intensive supervision and personal intervention of the Drug Court will end their drug and alcohol use."

The Madison County Juvenile Drug Court is funded by about $70,000 in federal grants. Madison County and the cities of Canton, Madison and Ridgeland turned over their awards from the Juvenile Accountability Incentive Block Grant to be used for the Drug Court.

"Without the support of the cities and the Board of Supervisors, our Drug Court would not have been possible," Judge Agin said. "This program is really going to be a community effort."

Funding for this project is provided by federal grant number V0000074350 received from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) and administered by the Mississippi Division of Public Safety Planning, Office of Justice Programs. This project is being supported with 90 percent federal funding.

Twelve drug courts operate in Mississippi, and four are in the planning stages. Other programs now in operation are the 2nd Circuit of Hancock, Harrison and Stone Counties; the 4th Circuit of Leflore, Sunflower and Washington counties; the 6th Circuit in Adams County; the 7th Circuit of Hinds County; the 8th Circuit of Leake, Neshoba, Newton and Scott counties; the 11th Circuit in Bolivar and Coahoma counties; the 12th Circuit of Forrest and Perry counties; the 14th Circuit of Lincoln, Pike and Walthall counties; the 19th Circuit of George, Greene and Jackson counties; Adams County Youth Court; and Ridgeland Municipal Court.

Programs in the planning stages include the 3rd Circuit in Lafayette County; the 9th Circuit in Issaquena, Sharkey and Warren counties; DeSoto County Youth Court; and Forrest County Youth Court.