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

Leake and Walthall counties start Youth Drug Courts

April 15, 2009

Youth Courts in Leake and Walthall counties have started drug court programs to provide community-based substance abuse treatment and counseling to delinquent juveniles.

Leake and Walthall counties are the first jurisdictions in the state to implement drug court programs at the chancery court level under the supervision of part-time youth court referees.

Expanding juvenile drug courts into chancery court jurisdictions will help bring treatment and supervision programs to more people in rural areas of the state, said State Drug Court Coordinator Joey Craft.

Craft said, “With the chancery court having jurisdiction over youth court matters where no county court exists, this will allow some of our more rural counties to create drug court programs that reach out and help youth and their families deal with substance abuse problems. Addressing substance abuse issues in teens before they reach addiction levels is critical. If treatment is successful, it is hoped that these kids won’t wind up in the adult criminal justice system.”

Judges say they see an acute need to address juvenile drug abuse.

Walthall County

An Adolescent Offender Program began drug testing juveniles in Walthall County Youth Court two years ago. The results were startling, said Youth Court Referee Conrad Mord. Between 85 and 90 percent of juveniles tested positive for marijuana or stronger drugs.

Mord in 13 years as Walthall County Youth Court Referee and 18 years as Youth Court prosecutor has watched drug abuse progress through generations of families.

The effect of drug abuse “goes from generation to generation to generation. I’m dealing with the children of, in some instances, the grandparents I prosecuted in Youth Court. We have the same kids over and over and over. I am looking for something to break the cycle,” Mord said.

Juveniles ages 12 to 17 who have been referred to the Youth Court for non-violent offenses will participate in the Walthall County program. They are expected to be under the supervision of the Walthall County Youth Drug Court for approximately a year.

Parents must agreed to their children’s participation, and the parents also must participate.

“If we treat the child, and mama and daddy have the problem, we are just spinning our wheels. We have to treat the whole family,” Mord said. “If they don’t want help, there is nothing I can do to fix a problem.”

Juveniles will be drug-tested at least once a week and will have a curfew. Teens and parents will receive counseling. Parenting classes will be provided. In-patient treatment can be ordered if there is a severe need, but Mord would prefer to rely on community-based counseling. Drug Court staff will gather information from the schools on participants’ grades, attendance, and any discipline problems. Juveniles will report to Mord about twice a month and will meet with counselor Phillip Wells three times a week. Sylvia Sessions, a licensed clinical social worker, also will work with them.

The Walthall County Youth Drug Court will have a $117,000 annual budget provided by the State Drug Court Fund. Wells is the only full-time employee. Sessions and Drug Court Coordinator Kristy Laird will work part-time. The Walthall County office of the Department of Human Services will provide office space in Tylertown.

Chancery Judge Debbra Halford and the Walthall County Board of Supervisors have been supportive. Circuit Judge Michael Taylor agreed to provide drug testing through the Fourteenth Circuit Drug Court, which deals with adult felony offenders in Walthall, Lincoln and Pike counties.

Leake County

Eleventh District Chancery Judge Cynthia Brewer, whose district includes Leake County, said that creating a youth drug court is necessary to address the problem of juvenile crime related to alcohol and drug abuse in Leake County. Judge Brewer said that of the 37 juvenile delinquency cases which were addressed in Leake County during a recent 11-month period, eight of the incidents involved a controlled substance violation, and nine of the juveniles tested positive for drugs.

Leake County Youth Court Referee Dexter Nettles said the majority of juveniles who are referred to the Youth Court have some involvement with alcohol or drugs. The Drug Court will provide a community-based option to address the alcohol and substance abuse issues which landed them in trouble.

“I think this program could be very beneficial in reducing or trying to prevent teenage drinking as well as drug abuse,” Nettles said.

“I think there is a great need for a program of this type on the local level,” Nettles said. The program will provide an option other than commitment to a residential treatment programs located outside the community, or to training school.

Judge Brewer said the exposure to alcohol and drug abuse sometimes starts within the family. Having a drug court operate under the auspices of the chancery court will provide an opportunity to address substance abuse problems within families, and offer parents counseling.

Judge Brewer said, “Our goal is to not only work on the substance abuse and delinquency, but also to see if we can rebuild family relationships, and try to get them back into school and improve school performance.”

Juveniles ages 13 to 17 are expected to remain under the supervision of the Leake County Juvenile Drug Court for nine to 15 months, depending on their progress. Drug Court Coordinator Tiffany Parker McLain, a licensed professional counselor, will supervise and provide individual and group counseling. Participants will appear before Nettles twice monthly. They will be subjected to twice weekly drug testing at the start of the program. They also will be randomly screened for alcohol.

The Leake County Youth Drug Court will have a $125,000 annual budget provided by the State Drug Court Fund. The Leake County program is housed in Walnut Grove. The office is in the same building which houses the 8th Circuit Drug Court adult program. Juveniles will report at different times than adult drug court participants, and the facilities will use separate entrances, so that juveniles will not mingle with adult drug court participants. The programs will share drug testing equipment.

Mississippi currently has 30 drug courts. There are 20 adult drug court programs across the state. The Leake and Walthall County programs are among 10 programs for juveniles. The eight other youth drug courts operate in County Courts in Adams, DeSoto, Forrest, Hinds, Jackson, Madison, Pike and Rankin counties. Other drug court programs are in planning stages.