Harrison County is starting a family drug court, one of only three in Mississippi. MPB’s Evelina Burnett has more details on the program, which has been shown to help bring families together faster.
The family drug court is modeled on other types of drug courts, but intended for parents whose children are in state custody or in danger of being removed.
It provides both substance abuse treatment and frequent court updates, in the hopes that families will be reunified quicker or even that the problems can be solved and foster care avoided all together.
Harrison County already has a youth drug court with a counselor on staff, and Youth Court Administrator Cindy Alexander says that means services can be provided much quicker.
“Most of our clients do not have insurance or have funding to get this," she says. "So once we had the juvenile drug court running, we’ve been wanting this, so we are very happy to have this now so we can have the services right here.”
Harrison County received a $65,000 grant for the new program from the state’s Administrative Office of Courts. That'll pay for the hiring of a qualified substance abuse therapist. They plan to start with about 15 participants, and grow from there.
Youth Court Judge Margaret Alfonso says the therapist will meet weekly with parents who participate, and she’ll see them in court twice a month.
“It gives us the opportunity to become much more familiar with these parents," she says. "It gives us an opportunity to let them know we really are pulling for them. The foundation of this is encouragement. We want to get them the help that they need to regain custody of their children.”
A 2012 report on family drug courts from the National Association of Drug Court Professionals says some 60 to 80 percent of child abuse or neglect cases involve substance abuse.
It found that treatment completion rates were 20 to 30 percent higher among parents in family drug court than others.
U.S. District Judge Keith Starrett - then a circuit judge - started Mississippi's first drug court in 1999.
"They are much more effective," he says. "You upend the recividism rate when someone completes a drug court."
He says statistics have shown the recividism rate falls to 25 percent for those who complete a drug court program.
"That is a tremendous improvement over the traditional system, which has about a 75 percent recividism rate, which means about 75 percent of the people end up back in trouble with drugs and back in the criminal justice system," he says.
Mississippi also has family drug courts in Rankin County and Adams County.