A Circuit Court judge provided an informative overview of why Drug Court was a good move in a climate of rising drug-related crime.
First District Circuit Court Judge “Jim” Seth Pounds and First District Drug Court Coordinator Jennifer Cummings recently spoke to the Corinth Rotary Club about the usefulness and the triumphs of Drug Court.
No matter the size of the city involved, Pounds said they all have a single commonality - crime. The area of the First District he serves includes Alcorn, Tishomingo and Prentiss counties. Other First District Circuit Court Judges are Thomas J. Gardner III, Paul S. Funderburk and James L. Roberts, Jr., who altogether serve seven counties.
Pounds provided some numbers to the gathering to illustrate the growth of the crime rate since he started around 1988 as assistant district attorney under Johnny Young. He said, at that time, there were four assistant district attorneys to handle all the cases.
“I had about 180 indictments a year [at that time] in those three counties,” said Pounds.
By 1995, he said cocaine had come onto the scene and the number of indictments he was handling was 500 a year.
“That’s when I had the pleasure to serve two terms as president of the Mississippi Prosecutor’s Association. We got a deal through the legislature for 32 extra assistant district attorneys state-wide,” said Pounds.
He said by the time he was was elected Circuit Court Judge in 2006 — in those same three counties — there were 900 indictments a year. The crime rate went from 180 indictments a year to edging nearer to 1,000. He estimated that 80 percent of the cases the district handles are drug-related.
Besides the illegal drugs, he said there is a major outbreak of people becoming hooked on prescription drugs. He pointed out drug addiction can happen to anyone and it doesn’t matter the gender or race. He said that what they had been doing, prior to the drug court program, was to put people in the penitentiary who had a drug addiction.
According to the State of Mississippi Judiciary’s stated purpose for the Drug Court, “Drug courts are designed to address the substance abuse problems that drive people to commit crimes by treating the disease of addiction in an attempt to curb criminal behavior. Drug Court programs focus on rehabilitating nonviolent drug offenders.”
Pounds said he was initially leery of the Drug Court program, but he has since changed his mind.
“We gave it a shot and I really think it was one of the best things I ever did,” he said. “Some of them make it and some of them don’t. Right now, we have approximately 230 in Drug Court and if you mess up, we will do it the old-fashioned way and lock you back down in the penitentiary.”
He said what was happening before the Drug Court program did not help people get off of drugs. Since the start of the Drug Court program, Pounds said he has seen “a lot of success stories.”
They have a Drug Court in Booneville and Tupelo and it is a three-year, five-phase program, according to Pounds.
He provided a small overview of the phases. He said phase one is treatment. If the Drug Court participant can stay clean for 30 days, they can then advance to phase two.
In the second phase, Pounds said the participant has to start paying $100 per month Drug Court fees and also pay for the drug tests. The participant also starts paying the county back for fines, costs, and restitutions to the victims of any crimes that may have taken place.
Participants never know when they will be drug-tested. They can be required to appear at any time. He recalled one time where they tested participants five days in a row. Participants have a three-hour window to arrive for the test. Failure to take the test, or pass the test, means jail. There is also a 10 p.m. curfew, and participants have to go to Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous twice a week.
In a further effort to aid in rehabilitation, Pounds said if a participant doesn’t have a high school diploma, they will receive assistance in getting their GED and participants can also get assistance finding a job.
He said they have seen successes with Drug Court, but he also said, “You can get your heart broken.” He said there were some participants he thought would successfully graduate and they “fell off of the wagon.”
Cummings said there is a big incentive for those who complete Drug Court. They can have their record expunged.
“This helps them further their education and it helps them in terms of getting better employment,” said Cummings.
She said there are currently 230 participants in the program for seven counties that they serve. She said that since drug court started in 2008, they have had 51 drug-free babies born that would have otherwise been born in addiction. They have had 42 participants who graduated the program in October 2016.
Cummings said they have one graduation ceremony a year and over 200 participants have graduated since 2008. Of the recent 42 graduates, they paid $99,317 back to the counties in which they were sentenced.
She explained that the testing budget is the bulk of the program’s budget because they conduct so much testing. In January 2017, they collected 1,866 samples upon which they ran 14,683 tests.
She said the extensive, random testing is what helps keep participants clean and the reason for the $98,000 testing budget.
While Drug Court is a five-phase, three-year program, Cummings said it will mostly likely take 3 1/2 to four years to complete the program as each time a participant has a set back, it starts the program over again, at least in that phase.
Cummings spoke of one particular success story which stood out for her. She said one man, who had already spent time in the penitentiary, began the program and it took four years for him to graduate. At the time he started the program, his wife was tired of his addiction and was about to divorce him. As he participated in the program, over a period of time, he began going to church, then he reported he was saved, then he felt a call to preach. At his graduation, his wife and his five children were present and he was chosen to speak.
He told those present, that Drug Court had not only saved his life, but also the lives of his wife and his children, shared Cummings.
(Information regarding First Judicial District Adult Felony Drug Court can be found online or for more information about the Drug Court, contact Jennifer Cummings or Chuck Mullins at 662-728-4060.)