By Alfa · Feb 11, 2004 ·
  1. Alfa

    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
    do it."

    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."

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