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

Chief Justice Randolph speaks to Gulf Coast Business Council

January 10, 2020

Supreme Court Chief Justice Mike Randolph said Friday that the Mississippi Judiciary needs a $4 million budget increase to implement new intervention courts to help veterans and people with mental illnesses, and to increase judges’ salaries for their additional duties.

Chief Justice Mike Randolph

Speaking to a meeting of the Gulf Coast Business Council in Gulfport, the Chief Justice asked more than 50 business leaders for their support of the judiciary’s 2021 Fiscal Year budget request to the Legislature. He also asked for the business leaders’ support of his efforts to gain a pay raise for judges. The last judicial pay raise legislation was passed by the Legislature in 2012.

Chief Justice Randolph hopes to establish eight mental health court pilot programs, add eight veterans court pilot programs and create three more drug courts if the 2020 Legislature approves the funding. The 2019 Legislature, as part of the Criminal Justice Reform Act, called for additional intervention courts to include veterans and mental health courts. The vote in the House of Representatives was 110 - 5 on House Bill 1352; the Senate vote was 49 - 2.

The savings produced by the intervention courts far exceed incarceration costs, resulting in a net savings to the taxpayers. “What the courts are involved in is saving people’s lives and saving money at the same time,” Chief Justice Randolph said.

Chief Justice Mike Randolph

It is expected that the savings to the State of Mississippi in Fiscal Year 2021 will exceed $71.7 million with the addition of the new intervention courts. Drug courts have saved the state more than $469 million in incarceration costs during the past eight years and five months, he said.

“I’m telling you that we need mental health courts,” he said. “A good number of people get in trouble because they get off their medications.” Likewise, military veterans who get into trouble could benefit from the structured supervision of the court, rather than prison.

“It’s the people who stand a chance to become productive citizens that need our help,” he said.

Randolph said he has particular empathy with veterans, as he is a U.S. Army combat veteran of Vietnam as well as a former U.S. Navy JAG officer.

The state currently has 40 drug courts. There are 22 adult felony drug court programs – one in each of the 22 Circuit Court districts. Special programs for veterans currently operate in two of them: the 12th Circuit and 19th Circuit. There are also three adult misdemeanor drug court programs, 12 juvenile drug courts and three family drug courts.

During the past seven fiscal years, intervention courts have graduated 5,624 participants. Accomplishments of drug court participants include:

• more than 477 attended vocational schools;
• more than 750 attended traditional schools;
• more than 1,321 attended post-secondary schools;
• more than 431 earned GEDs;
• more than 4,027 are now employed;
• more than 1,121 obtained driver licenses;
• more than 528 drug-free babies were born, increasing the savings to the state. According to a study conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, each healthy, drug-free infant saves the state an average of$750,000 during the first 18 years of life. Drug courts will save an additional $39 million over the next 18 years by avoiding the costs associated with caring for children exposed to drugs before they are born.