Just over 730 Mississippians graduated from one of the state’s 40 drug court program last year. MPB’s Evelina Burnett reports, the judges supervising these courts say the programs make a big difference.
U.S. District Judge Keith Starrett had been a state judge for about six years in the late 1990s when he’d had enough of the recidivism he saw among drug offenders in his court.
“It was in the middle of the crack cocaine explosion, and people would go to prison for dealing drugs, they’d come back, they’d be back in trouble, back in jail – it was a revolving door. And I just got frustrated and was looking for something that would work.”
That’s when he learned about drug courts, which use drug treatment programs and close supervision – including frequent court appearances and drug testing – to help offenders who are addicted to drugs. In 1999, Starrett started Mississippi’s first drug court and he says he saw the impact immediately.
“There’s a tremendous success in drug courts," Starrett says. "The recidivism rate for most drug addicts, without a drug court is up to 90 percent. If they complete a drug court program, the recidivism rate drops to about 25 percent.”
Hinds County Misdemeanor Drug Court Judge Frank Sutton, who is this year's president of the Mississippi Association of Drug Court Professionals, says he's seen the difference drug court programs can make in people’s lives.
"I've seen people who came in and were about to lose their children, they changed their life, and they were able to get their children back from the Department of Human Services," he says. "There are those who were unable to be employed. Now they're employable. I've seen those who have not completed their education. They've gotten their GEDs and some have even completed college."
Sutton says in his court, the recidivism rate is even lower than average, at about 3 percent.