Drug court sees more success; statewide expansion predicted

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, May 8, 2001

MAGNOLIA — An area drug court program continues to paydividends, and some state lawmakers would like to see it developedstatewide.

“I wish every elected official was aware of this program,” saidDist. 97 Rep. Clem Nettles Monday during graduation ceremonies fornine at the Pike County Courthouse. “I think it’s time the State ofMississippi help fund and help promote this program.”

Dist. 92 Rep. Dr. Jim Barnett agreed. He said the legislaturewill enact the program during its next session.

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“This needs to be a statewide program…,” Barnett said, addingthat it will help people tremendously. “It pays for itself.”

Judge Keith Starrett, who started drug court in Lincoln, Pikeand Walthall counties in February 1999, said the program has savedthe state over $1 million in prisoner incarceration and othercosts. Also, the nine drug court graduates have paid over $14,600toward their fines and over $5,000 in fee associated with runningthe program.

Attorney General Mike Moore congratulated Monday’s graduates,which raised the drug court graduation total to 25. He saidlawmakers, judges and other officials have questioned whether drugcourt would be a success.

“The best evidence for continuing drug court is you folks,”Moore told graduates.

Depending on the drug, the program is either one year or twoyears. Participants are required to get jobs, undergo drug testingand make weekly appearances before Starrett.

“People in drug court give an accounting of themselves everyweek,” Starrett said. “If they do what they are supposed to do,they get to stay out of jail a week longer.”

For those still in drug court, Moore encouraged them to not giveup and continue the program. For Monday’s graduates, he said theyare just beginning new lives.

“When you walk out today, you begin again,” Moore said.

Starrett expressed similar thoughts, reinforcing the need forparticipants to stay off drugs and alcohol.

“Sobriety is a journey, it’s not a destination,” the judgesaid.

During yesterday’s ceremonies, drug court graduate Rustin Wattsof Brookhaven touted the effectiveness of the program. Wattscompleted requirements for graduation Monday.

“I feel like without it, I’d probably be dead. I was bad ondrugs. It’s a great program,” said Watts, 23, who entered drugcourt after a methamphetamine arrest.

Now, Watts has been married to his wife Beth for a year, and heproudly showed their six-week-old baby Alexis to Starrett andothers during the ceremonies.

“It has taught me a lot. It’s one day at a time,” Watts said ofdrug court. “It’s turned my life around completely.”