Officials say Drug Court successful, saving taxpayers money

Published 1:53 pm Friday, April 15, 2011

The 15th Judicial District Drug Court, established three years ago by an order of Senior Circuit Court Judge Prentiss Harrell, is being touted as successful at rehabilitating and keeping out of prison some drug-related felons.

Reducing the prison population is saving taxpayers money, and the court is being operated at no expense to taxpayers, surviving on fines, fees and private foundation grants. No state, county or federal funds are expended on the program.

This information came out in a presentation by Frankie Glennis, drug court administrator, during a review of the court’s annual operations to Pearl River County supervisors at their Monday meeting.

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As Glennis wound up her presentation, board president and supervisor Anthony Hales, Sr., said, “When you realize that it costs the state and counties over $15,000  annually to house a prisoner, then this program is definitely saving taxpayers a lot of money.”

The program was implemented at the insistence of Harrell, who had seen it in operation in other judicial districts, and he laid the groundwork for putting it in place in the 15th Judicial District.

State statutes allow implementation of a drug court in the state’s judicial districts. There are 24 others scattered throughout Mississippi, and the 15th Judicial District’s is considered the fastest growing, which means it is effective, officials said.

Pearl River County is one of five counties making up the 15th Judicial District. The others are Jefferson Davis, Lamar, Lawrence and Marion counties.

Judge Harrell entered an order in Lamar County setting up the Drug Court for all five counties, and in February 2008, the court acquired its first case in Marion County. Harrell had briefed boards of supervisors in each county about what he was doing.

He had hired Glennis in August 2007 to help him set up the court system.

It meets each Thursday morning in Pearl River County and has set times to meet in each county.

The Drug Court takes over the cases of nonviolent convicted drug felons and offers them an alternative to jail time. When they enter the court’s supervision, the program usually takes three years, but some graduate sooner. In the program, they must remain sober, hold a full-time job, pay all their fines and meet all other requirements. Break a rule and a  convict is out, the alternative usually being jail time.

Some under the program have graduated from college and others have obtained their GED.

The program does not accept violent offenders, drug traffickers and those who sale and distribute drugs.

In what she called her 2011 Drug Court update, Glennis said:

Currently 205 cases are being handled: 85 in Pearl River County, 58 in Marion, 51 in Lamar, 7 in Jeff Davis, 3 in Lawrence and 1 transfer from Louisiana.

Hales asked why the low number in Jeff Davis and Lawrence, and Glennis replied that the offenders in Pearl River, Marion and Lamar are mostly nonviolent and those in Jeff Davis and Lawrence are violent offenders.

Glennis said there are 147 males and 58 females in the program, and she said that six drug-free babies had been born to court participants, one boy and five girls. She said those births, if they had occurred  in a prison, would have been extremely expensive to taxpayers. She said the mothers in the program were sober when their babies were born, thus saving the babies. She said babies born to addicted mothers live “short, painful lives.”

She said 16 males had obtained their GEDs while in Drug Court.

In three years, fines totaling $302,942.29 have been collected; circuit fines, fees and restitution has amounted to $207,033.24; and Drug Court fees collected totaled $95,909.05.

She said Drug Court participants have to pay all their outstanding fines before graduating from, and being released by, Drug Court.

She said private sector grants were $10,000 for electronic monitoring, $50,000 for vehicles, $390,000 for standard operation, and three training scholarships have been received.

Officials said that drug courts offer a powerful incentive for participants to change their behavior. “If they don’t stay clean, they go to jail,” said Glennis.