Drug Court program introduction is Aug. 19 in Meridian

August 13, 2009

Lauderdale County has created a drug court to deal with drug abusing offenders whose crimes are rooted in addiction.

The new 10th Judicial District Drug Court invites media to a program introduction at 11 a.m. Aug. 19 at the Drug Court office at 406 25th Avenue in Meridian.

Lauderdale County Court Judge Veldore Young will preside over the Drug Court. Senior Circuit Judge Robert Bailey assigned Judge Young to sit as a special circuit judge for the purpose of handling all cases assigned to the drug court.

Judge Young said she saw drug and alcohol abuse as an underlying cause of a majority of criminal charges she handled in three years as a public defender and nearly 10 years as a prosecutor. Drug Court will address the addiction that drives people to commit crimes.

Judge Young said, “I want to make them active, productive citizens in this community, and I also want to make them better people for their families....We need to make them whole again.”

Judge Bailey said, “We are looking forward to getting started. Hopefully it will be productive for everyone. We are all encouraged by what is happening in other drug courts and think it will be a win-win situation for us.”

The first participant entered the program on Aug. 4. The program is expected to be able to accommodate 75 people.

The Drug Court will accept first offenders charged with felony drug possession. Participants must plead guilty to charges when they enter the Drug Court program. Adjudication of charges will be withheld pending their successful completion of the program. Some can be eligible to have their records wiped clean after they successfully complete the program.

The office of the District Attorney must approve a referral to Drug Court. Then the Drug Court team will screen the person for possible acceptance.

Judge Young heads the Drug Court team. Other team members include Assistant District Attorneys Lisa Howell and Lean Follett, Public Defender Frances Stephenson, Capt. Angela Brown of the Lauderdale County Sheriff’s Office, Drug Court Coordinator Doncella Milton, and Drug Court Case Manager Alicia Walimaa. A probation officer will be hired shortly. Drug treatment providers are Alliance Health Center and Weems Mental Health Center.

The program in the beginning will focus on participants from Lauderdale County. The program could later be expanded to accept people referred from Clarke, Kemper and Wayne counties, which are also in the 10th Circuit District.

The creation of the 10th District Drug Court brings the total of drug courts in operation across the state to 32. There are 22 adult court programs and 10 juvenile programs. About 2,300 people are currently enrolled in drug court programs statewide.

The State Drug Court Fund will provide $127,500 for the first year of operation of the 10th District program, said State Drug Court Coordinator Joey Craft. A $50 monthly fee to be paid by each participant will also help fund the program.

The Drug Court must seek private sources of revenue to supplement its budget. Judge Young hopes that Drug Court can generate revenue by providing drug testing to area employers and schools.

Office space for the Drug Court has been donated rent free for one year. The late Rep. Charles L. Young Sr., a Meridian businessman and Judge Young’s father, agreed to provide the space before he died in April.

The 36-month regimen of the Drug Court is designed to help participants deal with addiction so that they don’t continue to commit drug-related crimes. Drug Court seeks to rehabilitate drug-using offenders through drug treatment and intense supervision with drug testing and frequent court appearances.

Drug testing will be conducted at least once a week, and more frequently if needed. In-patient treatment can be ordered if needed. Some participants may receive out-patient treatment. Participants will pay for their own treatment. Participants must get and keep a job.

Judge Young plans to offer employment and life-skills assistance beyond the typical drug court model. A Drug Court staff member will work with participants to teach them how to complete a job application, create a resume and conduct themselves in a job interview. Participants can be referred to existing community programs such as General Education Development (GED) classes, parenting skills classes and anger management classes.

Judge Young is looking for donations of clothing, toys, books and other goods to assist needy participants. “We are trying to help them get a fresh start,” she said.

She also hopes to be able to expose participants to local cultural events so that they can see a different way of life beyond drinking and drug use. Local people have expressed interest in donating event tickets.

“We want to expose them to as many different things as we can in order to show them that they don’t have to live that lifestyle,” she said.

For more information about the 10th District Drug Court, call 601-482-8238.