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

Three graduate from Madison County Juvenile Drug Court

June 28, 2005

U.S. District Judge Keith Starrett of McComb said Monday that the most effective drug courts are those which deal with juveniles.

Starrett, a former circuit judge who founded the state’s first felony adult Drug Court in 1999 in Lincoln, Pike and Walthall counties, was the guest speaker Monday at the first graduation ceremony for the Madison County Juvenile Drug Court. Three teens graduated.

“You get the most benefit from a juvenile Drug Court,” Judge Starrett told graduates, other teens enrolled in the program, parents, law officers and court staff on Monday. “When you do get into Drug Court, you have the opportunity to turn your lives around.”

One of the graduates echoed that. “Drug Court literally changed my life and I’m really grateful I had that opportunity,” said the 17-year-old, who is college-bound this fall after having scored 32 on the American College Test.

Another Drug Court graduate who had dropped out of school got a General Education Development (GED) degree.

Another was excused from attending the graduation ceremony because he had just started working at a full-time job. His mother accepted his diploma.

Judge Starrett told the graduates and other Drug Court participants that hard work is the key to success, not just in employment but in every aspect of life. He praised them for their efforts which brought them to graduation.

“You need to work hard to make the best decisions that you can make. But it doesn’t end there. You need to work even harder to make those decisions right,” Judge Starrett said. “Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishments. There is no substitute for hard work. Commitment is what it takes.”

He told them that even when they fail, get up and try again because no experience is wasted. “All of us are going to stumble and fall and make mistakes in our lives, but you don’t need to be beaten down by it,” he said. “People make mistakes. Get up and dust yourself off and get moving.”

Judge Starrett said extra work by Madison County Judge William Agin made the Madison County Juvenile Drug Court a reality. “Judge Agin didn’t have to do this. It takes extra time, extra work.”

Judge Agin, who presides over the Juvenile Drug Court, credited the work of the Drug Court team and the support of local governments and the community for making the program successful. The Drug Court team was created in 2002. The team includes the judge, a licensed professional counselor certified in drug and alcohol counseling, a prosecutor, a public defender, law enforcement representatives and a retired dentist who volunteers his time.

The first participant entered the program in May 2004. He was one of the three graduates Monday. Eighteen teens are enrolled in the program. Three were recognized Monday for moving up to Phase Two, and one was promoted to Phase Three.

Drug Court Counselor Cara Rios said, “I am proud of each and every one of you. It is an accomplishment just to be in the Drug Court.”

The Madison County Juvenile Drug Court accepts participants ages 12 through 17 who have been referred to the Youth Court after having either been charged with nonviolent delinquent acts or deemed to be children in need of supervision. The program targets teens with alcohol and drug problems. The act which brings them into contact with the Youth Court does not have to be a drug or alcohol violation.

The one-year program uses early intervention and intensive supervision to steer juveniles away from alcohol and drug abuse. Phase One is six months of weekly court sessions and weekly drug testing. During Phase Two, which lasts at least three months, participants attend court sessions twice a month, meet with the case manager and are drug-tested twice a month. In Phase Three, which lasts three months, participants go to court, meet with the case manager and are drug tested monthly.

Three juvenile drug courts operate in Mississippi now. The other two are in Adams County and DeSoto County.

One teen graduate’s mother said she hopes to see juvenile drug courts spread to other jurisdictions. “There are a lot of kids and a lot of parents who do need help,” she said.

Adams County was the first to start a juvenile Drug Court in Mississippi. Madison County was second.

Judge Agin said, “We are grateful to Adams County and to the help they have given us to tailor our program to juveniles.”

Judge Agin said he also looked to Judge Starrett for help. “Judge Starrett is the one person most responsible for the drug court concept in the state of Mississippi,” he said. “He was the inspiration for me when I wondered those many times if, how and when we would ever get our Drug Court in operation. He told me, ‘Just do it, and the details will take care of themselves.’”

The Drug Court graduation was conducted in a private ceremony Monday evening at the Madison County Courthouse in Canton. All Youth Court proceedings are closed to the public.

Parents and others interested in the Madison County Juvenile Drug Court may call 601-826-9028 for more information.

For more information about drug court programs in Mississippi, go to the web site of the Mississippi Supreme Court at and click on AOC.