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

Hinds County Drug Court receives Community Transformation Award

December 10, 2008

The leader of the national drug court movement praised Hinds County officials Tuesday, Dec. 9, for their work toward transforming the community through the Drug Court, and urged them to send more people through the program.

C. West Huddleston III, chief executive officer of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, presented the Hinds County Circuit Drug Court with the NADCP’s Community Transformation Award.

Huddleston presented the award to Hinds County Court Judge William Skinner and the Drug Court team during the Drug Court graduation Tuesday at the Hinds County Courthouse. The plaque said that the award is “in recognition of its tireless efforts to foster community transformation through reducing drug addiction and crime, restoring hope and reuniting families.”

Huddleston said, “Thank you for being a shining example of what a community can do to save its citizens and take care of its own, and I look forward to seeing a remarkable increase in the number of people in this court the next time I come.”

Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith, speaking to those assembled for the graduation, said he plans to identify more people who would be eligible for Drug Court. “We will work very, very hard to identify those who need the help,” Smith said.

Smith said there is a benefit to sending people who can be productive into Drug Court. Smith looked at the four graduates dressed in white shirts and ties. “You look a whole lot better where you are sitting here, as opposed to in Raymond,” he said, referring to the Hinds County Detention Center at Raymond.

The District Attorney’s office determines whether to seek jail sentences or send defendants to the treatment and rehabilitation-oriented Drug Court. Drug courts may accept drug users whose addiction has caused them to commit nonviolent crimes. Drug dealers and violent offenders are not eligible.

Drug courts treat addiction in an attempt to curb criminal behavior. Participants who violate provisions of the program may be sent to jail. Drug courts use intensive supervision, drug testing, treatment and immediate sanctions and incentives. Participants must get and keep a job and pay all fines and fees. Those who do not have a high school diploma must pursue a General Education Development (GED) degree. Some are required to do community service work.

The Hinds County Circuit Drug Court has seen 150 participants graduate since the program began in 2000, according to Drug Court Coordinator Brenda Mathis. After the graduation on Tuesday, 59 people remain enrolled in the program.

Huddleston said, “This court in Hinds County, Jackson, Mississippi, in the heartland of America, stands in the gap between people perishing and healing.”

Huddleston said, “Jackson, Mississippi, has a lot of drug-using offenders who need this program.”

Drug courts cost less to operate than prisons. Nationally, the corrections budget is $60 billion a year, Huddleston said. He estimated that 75 percent of those who complete drug court will never be arrested again.

“But we can’t get enough people into our programs for it to truly make a difference in our communities,” he said. “This is going to take a psychological shift in the way we think about people who come through the courts.”

Nationally, about 120,000 people are enrolled in drug courts. He estimated that 1.2 million people are eligible for drug court. Huddleston said that the United States has approximately 2.3 million people in prison, and half of them are clinically addicted to drugs.

“If they got clean and sober, they would stop breaking the law,” Huddleston said.

One of the graduates told the audience that the program works, but the participants have to want it to work for them. During his stay at Harbor House, “They taught me how to live sober,” he said.

His mother, a nurse, said, “I’ve watched him become the person he was originally. I do think this state should have more programs set up for this type of individual.”

Huddleston says that his vision is to have drug courts within reach of every community in America. Mississippi currently has 28 drug courts – 20 adult programs and eight juvenile programs.

Huddleston, who grew up in Memphis, speaks from experience about addiction. “I stand before you 20 years clean and sober this year because somebody gave me a chance that I did not deserve,” he said. “I understand what it means to battle against yourself and to win those moment by moment temptations, and to just blow it all up. It takes a while to get there, to have enough strength and time under your belt to live clean and sober.”

He took his first drink at 10 when his grandfather let him have a shot of whiskey. He was using drugs at 16. At 20, his family and his employer in Lexington, Ky., forced him into a rehabilitation program. Afterwards, he turned from learning auto body work to working as a prison drug and alcohol counselor. He worked in the Tennessee and Oklahoma justice systems to develop, implement and operate in-custody and community mental health and substance abuse treatment programs. He served as the director of two community corrections programs and as the interim director of a 125-bed pre-release correctional center. He was involved in creating the first two drug courts in the state of Oklahoma.

Huddleston previously served as director of the National Drug Court Institute. He is now chief executive officer of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals headquartered in Alexandria, Va. NADCP’s members include court, corrections and treatment professionals from 2,100 drug courts across the nation.