Judge Keith Starrett to address Forrest and Perry County Drug Court
Thirty-one Forrest and Perry County Drug Court participants will celebrate their progress Friday, May 20, at 11 a.m. in a special ceremony at the Lake Terrace Convention Center in Hattiesburg.
U.S. District Court Judge Keith Starrett will be the keynote speaker. Judge Starrett started the state’s first felony drug court in 1999 while he was a state circuit court judge in Lincoln, Pike and Walthall counties.
Circuit Judge Robert B. Helfrich, who founded the 12th Circuit Court Adult Drug Court program in Forrest and Perry counties, will preside over the ceremony.
The celebration coincides with National Drug Court Month. Graduation ceremonies and other special activities are being conducted in courts throughout the country this month. As of December 2004, 1,621 drug courts were in operation nationwide, according to the National Association of Drug Court Professionals. Thirteen Drug Courts operate in Mississippi.
Drug Courts are special courts which seek to rehabilitate drug-using offenders through drug treatment and intense supervision with drug testing and frequent court appearances. Drug courts offer the incentive of a chance to remain out of jail, and the sanction of a jail sentence if participants fail to remain drug-free and in compliance with all program requirements. Participants are required to work, and if they dropped out of school, they must pursue a General Education Development (GED) degree.
One hundred people are enrolled in the 12th Circuit Court Adult Drug Court, said Drug Court Coordinator Lucy Bates Davenport. No one has graduated yet from the program, which began Oct 8, 2003. The program, which has four phases, requires a minimum of two years for completion, and can take up to five years.
Thirty-one people will receive certificates of achievement Friday to mark their progress in the Drug Court. One person will move to Phase 4, the final stage of the program, with unsupervised probation and monthly reporting to a probation officer. Eleven people are going into Phase 3, and 19 are moving into Phase 2.
Drug Court officials estimate that it would cost about $17,000 a year apiece to house each of the participants if they were in jail. It costs about $1,500 apiece a year to keep them under the supervision of the Drug Court.
Judge Helfrich said, “Not only are we saving money, we are saving lives.”
For more information about drug court programs in Mississippi, go to the web site of the Mississippi Supreme Court at www.mssc.state.ms.us and click on AOC.