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Starrett program targets drunk driving offenders

An experimental program for drunk driving offenders could haveimportant nationwide ramifications for DUI treatment, said 14thDistrict Circuit Judge Keith Starrett.

The judge from Lincoln, Pike and Walthall counties has receiveda $35,000 grant to establish a drunk-driving oriented version ofhis successful drug court program. The effort, which utilizesfederal funds matched with 25 percent local funds generated throughestablished drug court activities, is aimed at reducing repeatoffenses after a person is accused of felony DUI on their thirdoffense.

“This is an experimental program to see if we can improve therecidivism rate for some of our DUIs,” Starrett said.

DUI court participants will also be studied to evaluateeffectiveness of a medication therapy program. Through controlledcompliance, participants will be tested three times a week: by themedical compliance officer; for their normal weekly courtappearance and by the officer overseeing the participant’s housearrest, which is a routine part of felony DUI sentencing.

“The up side is we have the ability and the incentive to get inthe program and get treatment,” Starrett said.

The DUI program will run through the end of September and spaceis limited to 25 participants. Also, the program is only in PikeCounty currently.

Starrett said participants’ cases will be transferred to PikeCounty Court Judge John Price, who will oversee the program.Lincoln and Walthall counties do not have County Court and Starrettindicated staffing limitations would not allow the DUI court inthose counties.

Pending the results of the medication therapy survey, Starrettwould like expand the DUI court program.

“The chances of this going district wide are very good and goingstate wide are very good if we have something to show,” Starrettsaid.

Starrett said willing participants can be steered to the DUIcourt immediately after their arrest for third offense DUI, whichis when the cases come under circuit court jurisdiction. Inaddition to drug court requirements, DUI court participants must beevaluated by a physician and recommended for medicationtherapy.

Brandon Frazier, assistant district attorney, is working withStarrett on the program. He also mentioned the chances for a quickresponse to DUI cases.

“We can get them off the street quicker, which is effective inprotecting people from being hit by a drunk driver,” Fraziersaid.

Starrett said the program has the potential to show DUIoffenders the benefits and importance of being sober. Also, thepublic safety benefits are many-fold.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to make a difference,” Starrettsaid.