Mississippi court officials are looking to help first time drug offenders

The COVID-19 Pandemic continues to bring challenges and changes to society, but in the case of Mississippi's courts

STARKVILLE, Miss. (WCBI)- The COVID-19 Pandemic continues to bring challenges and changes to society, but in the case of Mississippi’s courts; it’s also producing a few opportunities as well.

“Anytime we send jury notices out we send a covid notice out. That’s information that we gather to help us decide whether or not individuals are allowed to enter the building,” said Oktibbeha County Circuit Court clerk Tony Rook.

Rook said the court still adheres to the original CDC guidelines of wearing masks, sanitizing, and social distancing when people enter the court room. When many things ceased to operate throughout the world; court still had to go on in Mississippi.

“It was critical that the court stayed open throughout the pandemic because if some child was picked up by police when their parents meth lab blew up a judge had to decide where they’d go,” said Mississippi State Supreme Court Chief Justice Mike Randolph.

Randolph said the pandemic wasn’t all bad; it gave courts a chance to upgrade.

“Because of the pandemic we were able to update our court room facilities throughout the state to use zoom and a lot of things like that first appearances and notion hearings,” said Ranldolph.

It also gave them a reason to expand on an idea to keep some offenders out of crowded jails and prisons. Randolph backs a plan to help first time drug users clear their name in the judicial system.

“Trying to use courts to provide an alternative method of punishing rather than sending them to parchment or hanging out in the county jail,” said Randolph.

“Gives first time offenders an opportunity to kick their habit, to complete the program, to gain work, and to become productive members of society. If they meet those requirements.. most times the charges are retired,” said Rook.

The goal is to restore families, communities, and offer people a chance at redemption; so far  several people are doing their best to get back and stay on the right track.

“We’ve had almost seven thousand people graduate from drug court. They’re paying taxes they’ve got jobs and they’re home with their family,” said Randolph.

Besides payroll taxes coming in, drug courts can also save taxpayer dollars. It costs $18,500 to support a prisoner for a year. The cost for that same person going through drug court is only $1,200.

The program is only available for first time drug offenders.


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