Four graduate from Hinds County Drug Court program;
Jackson Municipal Court and Hinds County Justice Court are in the planning stages to form misdemeanor drug courts in those jurisdictions, judges and administrators said Tuesday.
During ceremonies at the Hinds County Courthouse to honor four Hinds County Drug Court graduates, County Judge Mike Parker announced that he and his staff are assisting officials of the municipal and justice courts in the planning stages of drug courts.
Judge Parker presides over the Hinds County Drug Court, which handles felony cases. The Hinds County Drug Court began enrolling participants in March 2000.
Hinds County Justice Court Judge Nikki Martinson Boland said, "I'm so excited about the opportunity for Hinds County Justice Court to have a chance to be involved in an alcohol and drug court like this. I think as a problem solving court, hopefully we will be able to set up a system like Judge Parker's drug court....Hopefully we will be able to make some interventions ... in some lives to prevent those misdemeanors from turning into felonies and moving on... into higher courts."
Karen Quay, city of Jackson Director of Policy and Intergovernmental Affairs, said Mayor Harvey Johnson has been working with Municipal Judge David Rozier on plans to start a drug court program.
Judge Parker said, "If drug cases can be addressed in this way at that level, then I'm confident we would see ... a lot fewer cases at the felony level. To me, it's the best money that's spent in the criminal justice system."
Judge Parker said legislation passed this spring that created a funding mechanism for drug courts is encouraging growth of the programs. Eleven drug courts operate in Mississippi.
"Thanks to the efforts of a lot of folks in the Mississippi Legislature, one of the chief ones of which is Rep. Alyce Clarke, drug courts are now a reality in lots of jurisdictions," Judge Parker said.
Rep. Clarke, who pushed for drug court legislation for many years, said, "Together we can continue to make a difference."
Judge Parker said, "Drug Court is not soft and it's not easy and it's not for everybody, but it still strikes me as it's the best hope of dealing with drug addiction at a time when the jails are full....Those involved in the legal system, the prosecutors and the judges and everybody else knows we have only a certain amount of resources, a certain amount of jail space, and most of us have come to the conclusion that the best way to use our jail space is for violent criminals, and to try to be creative and come up with other alternatives for nonviolent crimes, and this is one way to do it."
Hinds County District Attorney Faye Peterson, keynote speaker at the Drug Court graduation, said, "We have to have alternative solutions. It is worth it to give someone a chance rather than send them to prison."
Peterson told the four Drug Court graduates and a large crowd of participants in other stages of Drug Court, "This program is there to help you, to give you and your family, your children and this community something better to hope for, something better to build on, because as you build, as you grow, you make Hinds County a better place to live."
Peterson praised Drug Court graduates Anthony Echols, Angela Huff, Robert Shumaker and Nathan Taylor for their efforts.
"I don't think there's been enough enthusiasm in this room. These four individuals have done something absolutely amazing and I'm going to ask you to get on your feet and celebrate for them. It is an absolutely amazing thing when somebody takes the opportunity to actually effectively change their lives," Peterson said, rousing the audience to a standing ovation.
Judge Parker called Echols "the model Drug Court graduate." He was never sanctioned during the two-year program. "That's almost unheard of because you are dealing with folks who admit they are addicted to a controlled substance," Judge Parker said.
Echols, 41, of 807 Deer Park in Jackson, was arrested on a charge of possession of crack cocaine. Echols credited a stay at Harbor House for teaching him "the tools I needed to function in life. I'm just blessed to be here," he said.
Taylor, 38, of 2811 Duane St. in Jackson told the audience that he walked away from Harbor House after a week of treatment. He had originally been arrested on a charge of possession of crack cocaine. "I had to go report to the judge. He gave me 30 days in jail and another chance. Thank you."
Laughter erupted in the courtroom when Judge Parker quipped, "Drug Court is one of the few places where the judge gets thanked for putting you in jail."
Angela Huff, 22, of Florence, is the mother of three children and is expecting a fourth shortly. She was arrested on a cocaine possession charge. Huff told Judge Parker and Drug Court staff, "I just want to say thank y'all for giving me the chance to start my life over with my children."
Peterson said, "It says something about you, Ms. Huff, that you are now carrying a child that you are going to give the benefit of a life born free."
Shumaker, 21, of Brandon, arrested on a felony marijuana possession charge, said, "Probably the number one benefit I could say that has come to me as a result of the Drug Court program is getting involved in a spiritual program of action. And through that I have been able to achieve and maintain my sobriety and get back to my life and not run from it....There is a lot of hope in this for me and for other people out here. As it has been said, I didn't get thrown away and left to rot in a jail cell. I was given and opportunity to turn my life around, and it's an opportunity I have been given many times before, but never took."
Peterson said, "It is an amazing thing, Mr. Shumaker, that you've already realized at a young age that you've got to give back, that the thing that makes me stronger is when I help someone else, and I encourage you to continue to do that."
Peterson said, "This is a good investment in these lives and the lives of their families and the lives of their children and the lives of other people that you are expected to change, because it is not enough that you have gotten your act together." Peterson said Drug Court graduates can speak powerfully by their example and experience. "I can assure you that someone out there who is considering using drugs or struggling with an addiction doesn't want to hear from me. They want to hear from somebody who has been there, they want to hear form somebody who has heard the demons of alcohol and cocaine and heroin call their name....They want to hear from you."