PROPOSED DRUG COURT WOULD ROUTE OFFENDERS TO TREATMENT
NATCHEZ -- It may not be long before drug offenders have an alternative to
jail in Adams County.
Circuit Court Judge Lillie Blackmon Sanders and a team of volunteers are
working to establish a drug court based on the successes of similar courts
across the country. Even though things are still in the planning stage,
Sanders said she hopes to have to court running by the end of the month.
In the proposed drug court participants would appear before the judge once
a week to account for their behavior. They would receive weekly drug tests,
and if they refused a test or tested positive for drugs they would spend 10
days in jail. The program would last from one to three years for each
Sanders said other judges had prompted her to start a drug court in the
past, but she was afraid of the time it would take.
"Now I say, 'Why did I wait so long? I should have done it three years
ago,'" Sanders said. "The more I read about drug court and looked at the
economic impact of drugs in the community, the more I knew we just had to
Seventy percent of criminal cases that appear before a judge have something
to do with drugs or alcohol, Sanders said.
"If we can save three out of 10 and make them productive citizens we would
be successful," Sanders said.
Natchez Police Chief Mike Mullins said he attended a meeting Friday to
determine the police department's involvement.
"I'm excited about it," he said. "I think it is effective and I'm excited
to see a new program that is an attempt to change the behavior of drug
abusers rather than incarceration only."
The team of volunteers Sanders assembled will attend a training session in
March to qualify them to work with a drug court. The team includes a
treatment coordinator, a researcher, a defense attorney, a prosecutor, a
probation officer and several people responsible for gathering statistics
and working with the community.
At this point there is no funding for the drug court. No one involved will
be paid for their work. "Right now we have absolutely nothing," Sanders
said. "We hope to get money through grants, private donations, foundations
and we will be asking the city and county for funding."
Sanders said she plans to start the court small, with no more than 10
participants. She already has three people she sentenced to probation in
mind for the court. Her other goals include getting community groups and
organizations to adopt a drug court defendant to help hold them accountable
and find good jobs, she said. "It's a worthy cause," she said. "To see
someone who has been cleaned up, it's just amazing to see."
As the judge in drug court, Sanders role would be very involved with the
participants. Prior to each weekly court meeting the drug court team would
discuss the progress of each defendant. During court each defendant would
stand before the judge for critique, Sanders said.
"I meet with them, eyeball them and ask them questions. They are being
monitored 24/7, it's babysitting to a degree."