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Graduation held for Drug Court

Court officials, family members and friends celebrated a “day ofthanksgiving” Monday as Drug Court participants graduated from onephase of the rehabilitation program to the next or exited theprogram altogether.

Supreme Court Justice Kay Cobb, the ceremony’s featured speaker,said witnessing the graduation was “an incredible experience.”

“I’m seeing something that’s real, something that’s changedpeople’s lives for the better,” Cobb told an overflow circuitcourtroom audience Monday afternoon.

Cobb praised 14th Circuit Court Judge Keith Starrett forimplementing and leading the state in Drug Court efforts. She saidit was “inspiring.”

“It’s so good to know some things in the criminal justice systemare producing worthwhile results, and this one certainly is,” Cobbsaid.

Drug Court is a four-phase program including drug treatment andperiodic reporting to Judge Starrett. Phase 1 is a treatmentprogram; Phase II is weekly visits before the judge; Phase III ismonthly reporting and Phase IV is non-reporting.

On Monday, certificates were presented to 18 who had completedPhase II, 21 Phase III and 22 Phase IV. Also, three people wererecognized for their efforts to stay sober in the DUI Drug Courtprogram in Pike County.

For some participants leaving the Drug Court program, Starrettsaid another benefit is that their criminal records will becleared. Some offenses, the judge said, cannot be removed.

Jan Kincade, of Brookhaven, was one of the 22 leaving theprogram.

In November, Kincade said she would have been in Drug Court fiveyears after admitting to obtaining Hydrocodone bymisrepresentation. She proudly displayed both her graduatecertificate and the court order clearing her record.

“It says expunged. I’m so excited,” Kincade said.

Starrett pointed out that Drug Court graduates going into PhasesIII and IV had paid a combined $170,000 toward their fines, feesand restitution.

“Drug Court is not a free ride,” Starrett said.

Chancery Court Judge Ed Patten, a former law school classmatewho introduced Cobb, commended family members for theirencouragement of Drug Court participants.

“It takes a tremendous amount of support to go through thisprogram and be a success,” Patten said.

Mississippi Department of Corrections Commissioner Chris Eppswas also present for Monday’s graduation ceremonies. Citingnational statistics, Epps said 15 percent of those incarcerated arein jail for crimes other than drugs, but they were committed in aneffort to get drugs.

“Mississippi is no different,” Epps said.

Epps said Drug Courts is a good program that is producing goodresults. He is in the process of helping several counties implementtheir own Drug Court programs.

“I’d like to have Drug Courts in all 82 counties, but we don’thave enough money to develop them for all 82 counties,” Eppssaid.