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Mississippi Drug Courts Save Lives and Money Leah Lewis

How drug court helps people Matthew Fleming, one of several hundred participants admitted to the 15th Judicial District Drug Court since its inception in 2007, is one of many whose life has been positively changed because of the drug court program. Im 32 years old, and the first time I ever tried drugs, I was 13 years old, Fleming said. This is the longest, from the age of 13 to 31, that Ive ever been sober in my whole life. Because of drug court Fleming now holds a steady job, and he also has more time to spend with his family. He has become more of a family-oriented person. I dont think Id have that had I not been put in drug court and chose to live this way, Fleming said. Changes such as Flemings have been possible because of the drug court program, but now that drug courts in Mississippi face a budget cut, this could impede on the drug courts ability to send people to treatment and the get help they need. Professionals in drug court have also seen the positive effects the program has on its participants. I have seen people regain their passion for life, said Crystal Browning, the coordinator of the 15th District Judicial Drug Court. To remember what it was like to not have a mood altering drug in their system. To be able to regain custody of their children, and to have people trust them again.

Participants in the program have the opportunity to change their lives and become different people after their time in drug court. The purpose of drug courts is to reduce criminal activity, reduce substance abuse, and rehabilitate participants, according to the state of Mississippi Judiciary website. Drug courts work to help people overcome drug addictions. The 15th Judicial Drug Court serves Jefferson Davis, Lamar, Lawrence, Marion and Pearl River counties. In addition to saving lives, drug court also saves the state money. It (drug court) teaches them how to live life without drugs, said Heather Strange, the 15th District budget analyst. Weve had people go on to get degrees that they would have never been able to get without drug court. We have seen completely different people after a little bit of time.

For most participants, being a part of the drug court program has positively affected their lives. It has helped me to be accountable, Jenny Cleveland said. On a personal basis this has been life changing, having to be accountable for the first time in my life I knew right from wrong, but I just couldnt quit. Me having to go to rehab and then learning a new way of life, its been such a blessing, Cleveland said. Sabrina Miller learned more about herself through drug court. (Drug court) has helped me learn about my addiction. It has helped me learn about myself and actually what has caused my problems to always turn to drugs and alcohol, Miller said. We get a chance to redo life, you know, the felonies off our record, and we get a

do-over. Drug court helps participants in a way no other program can. Sometimes you need a push whenever youre in a bad situation, Amy Willis, a participant in the 15th District, said. You need people to believe in you and to help you, and its really hard for you when youre in that situation its hard for you to see that.

Drug court and its success rates among participants Circuit Judge Prentiss G. Harrel established the program in December 2007, according to the 15th Judicial District website. During the past seven years, success rates have been positive. The total percentage of graduates in the drug court program in 2012 was 73 percent. According to statistical information provided by the 15th Judicial District, 384 people were admitted into the program between 2008 and 2012, and 86 graduated in 2012. Sixty-one new participants were admitted to the program in the year 2012. In the same year, 45 other participants graduated. That number has only increased between 2010 and 2012. The number of people who start the program in a specific year does not necessarily reflect the success rate in a given year. Some participants take longer than others to finish the program. There are certain guidelines a participant in the program must complete. They have to be drug free and clean for a year without any positive tests to be considered for graduation. They have to pay off all their drug court fines and fees, said

Thomas Lewis, the lab technician for the 15th Judicial District Drug Court.

Drug courts work in more ways than one Not only does drug court save lives, it saves the state money. More than $38 million is saved annually in Mississippi in incarceration costs of non-violent drug offenders, according to a 2011 state Drug Court Advisory report. The 15th District alone, which currently has 210 participants, saves the state $3.57 million per year. There are more than 3,350 participants in drug courts statewide. The drug court system on average costs less than $2,500 a year per participant, as opposed to incarceration costs between $20,000 and $50,000 per person per year, according to the National Association of Drug Court Professionals.

The budget cut Drug courts across the state now face a budget cut of 42 percent. What does this mean for the 15th Judicial District Drug Court in particular? Funds have been cut to adult drug courts by 25 percent. With a previous budget of about $312,000, this makes a significant difference in the numbers. The budget for the 15th District has been cut by about $78,000, which puts the yearly budget at a little over $234,000.

How does the budget cut effect drug court and its participants? The 25% cut has affected the 15th District in several ways. Mainly, the budget cut has affected the money available to help with sending

people to treatment, Crystal Browning said. Im saddened (by the budget cut) because a program that does so much good and changes lives cannot keep the current funding to expand, Browning said. The 15th District relies on funding from the state and from grants, but lately there have been changes and cuts made to the budget due to not having enough money. We usually try to get a grant from the Asbury Foundation. They didnt give us one, so we had to kind of scramble together and revise our budget, Heather Strange said. When we didnt get the Asbury grant, we had zero money for treatment, and that is the number one reason that we need money. Strange said that many of the treatment facilities have gone up in price, and people who cannot afford treatment are put in jail in order to sign up for state treatment. It was recently discovered by the 15th Judicial District Drug Court that the wait for that is four to six months. So youre talking about leaving people in jail for four to six months where they can still get drugs, where they can become better criminals, where its not going to work, Strange said. The purpose of drug courts is to work on treating addictions in order to prevent future criminal behavior, according to a 2011 progress report on Mississippi Drug Courts by the state Drug Court Advisory Committee. Professionals in drug court, as well as participants, agree that drug court is a better alternative to prison. A lot of people just get put in jail, and I dont think that helps them at all, because drug court teaches you, it makes you go to meetings, said Sabrina Miller, a

participant of drug court. You get to learn about stuff in the meetings, and jail just puts you there just to sit. With the cost of incarceration taken into consideration, drug courts save the state a considerable amount of money. Consider a savings ranging from 3,000 to 13,000 dollars per participant, according to the National Association of Drug Court Professionals website. Not only does drug court help people become accountable, it saves their lives and it saves the state thousands of dollars per participant. The main thing we wanted to do is keep people out of jail and if we have to put them in jail for treatment because they dont have any money, then were kind of defeating our purpose, Strange said. Strange said there are rumors about more money being put into the state for drug courts due to other cuts in corrections departments, but even that is not definite. There is still a possibility that the budget will be cut again. I hope they dont (cut the budget), because I think the first thing theyre probably going to tell us to cut is staff. We dont even have enough people that work now for the amount of people that we have (in drug court), Strange said. There are currently six members of staff in the 15th Judicial District Drug Court, and 210 participants in the 15th District drug court program. The future of drug court growth in Mississippi now depends on our state Legislature.

Sources: Crystal Browning 15th District Coordinator Heather Strange 15th District Budget Analyst Thomas Lewis 15th District Lab Technician

Participants from the 15th District: Jenny Cleveland Matthew Fleming Sabrina Miller Amy Willis

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