Judge Broome announces plans for Rankin County Youth Drug Court
Rankin County Court Judge Thomas H. Broome has begun work to create a Youth Drug Court.
Judge Broome, who presides over all Rankin County Youth Court cases, said the prevalence of alcohol and drug abuse among the juveniles he sees in court has convinced him of the need for a specialized court to deal with those problems. Juvenile drug courts use early intervention and intensive supervision to deter drug use and prevent criminal behavior.
Judge Broome said, “In a large portion of the delinquency cases, those children have corresponding drug and alcohol issues. By implementing the juvenile drug court, we believe we will provide more effective alternatives to those children other than detention.”
The program’s mission statement is: “The Rankin County Youth Drug Court promotes drug-free living through intense Supervision, Accountability, Family involvement, and Effective treatment to improve the quality of life for juveniles, their families and the community.”
The Rankin County Youth Drug Court planning team has taken the acronym “SAFE,” from key words in the mission statement: “supervision,” “accountability,” “family” and “effective.”
Judge Broome said, “We hope to help those youths who are referred to Youth Drug Court to lead a safe and sober lifestyle and to enhance the quality of their lives as well as the lives of their families.”
Judge Broome has plans to have the Youth Drug Court in operation by the end of the year.
Drug Court would be open to non-violent offenders ages 12 to 17.
Judge Broome said, “We are not going to be implementing a ‘hug-a-thug’ program. Violent or habitual offenders will not be eligible to participate.”
Judge Broome expects juveniles referred to Drug Court to spend one to two years in the program. The first stage of the program will be the most intense. In the first phase, participants will meet weekly with the judge, and two or three times a week with Drug Court staff. They may be subjected to drug testing three times a week.
The program will use strict sanctions and incentives. Those who fail a drug screen may be detained in the detention center.
Families must be willing to be supportive of their children’s participation. Family support is important “so that we can engage the entire family in addressing the youth drug issue,” Judge Broome said. “Those children and their families who become involved in Drug Court submit themselves to intensive supervision. That means frequent drug testing as well as counseling and working directly with the court staff to address all aspects of the juvenile’s life, including at school and at home and in between.”
Judge Broome said that in-patient care may be required for Drug Court participants because of the severity of their addictions, but less restrictive alternatives will also be considered. There are advantages to dealing with a juvenile’s substance abuse problems with the child living at home.
Judge Broome explained, “The benefit of keeping the youth at home during the treatment is that it provides a more realistic setting to learn the necessary skills to say “no” to drug involvement. It is easy to say no to drugs when you are not confronted with drugs in a confined treatment facility, but it is entirely different when you face the day-to-day temptations and peer pressure in the real world. By keeping the child at home during the supervision and educational portion of the program, the child is much more likely to develop the real skills necessary to say no to drug involvement. Also the support network of the family, church and school provide a safety net for the child to lean on during the difficult days of withdrawal.”
Judge Broome said, “The additional benefit from being at home is that the child's educational career is not derailed. The child can attend his or her school and not have to switch back and forth from one school setting to another.”
Drug Court will include feedback from teachers. “They are the front lines of the system because they see the children day in and day out,” Judge Broome said. He wants to know children’s academic progress as well as their behavior in school. He wants to know “whether they are awake in class, whether they are at class, and whether they are having any difficulties remaining sober. The school component certainly is indicative of what is going on with the children in terms of their academic progress.”
Due to the intense supervision required of the participants in the Youth Drug Court, there will be a recommendation and referral process to determine eligibility in the program. Those children who are not enrolled in the Drug Court will continue to receive the current services being provided through Region 8 Mental Health Services. Region 8 provides an in-depth assessment of children's mental health and drug-related issues, and the children are then referred to state facilities such as East Mississippi State Hospital, Oak Circle Center at the Mississippi State Hospital, and other private treatment providers throughout the state.
Judge Broome said, “We will be establishing a steering committee comprised of stakeholders from throughout the community to bring their talents and strengths to help the children in our care.”
Judge Broome and seven members of the Drug Court team attended their first training session Jan. 11-14 in Point Clear, Ala. They will attend a second training session in Boston in April, and a third in Atlanta in September.
Drug Court team members include Rankin County Youth Court Administrator Paul Bowen, Youth Court abuse and neglect intake officer Amy Cornelison, Youth Court Prosecutor Bobby Lingold, Public Defender Connie Jones, Harold Johnson and Christy Emerson of Region 8 Mental Health Services, and Rankin County School District psychologist Dr. Nita Townsend.
Training is paid for by a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Assistance and provided by the National Drug Court Institute.
The Drug Court team will be seeking federal grants as well as funding available for juvenile drug courts through the state Administrative Office of Courts. Participation in the drug court training program will make Rankin County eligible for consideration for federal funds. The program will also seek funding from non-profit foundations.
Judge Broome estimates that the program will cost between $150,000 and $175,000 per year. That will include drug testing costs.
Drug courts are in operation in Youth Courts in Adams and Madison counties. Similar programs are also in planning stages in DeSoto and Forrest counties.