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Drug Courts in Mississippi

What are drug courts? How do they operate in the state of Mississippi? A complete guide to state laws and eligibility requirements for Mississippi’s drug courts here.

ARTICLE SUMMARY: You may be eligible to go through a Mississippi drug court if you have been charged with a non-violent, non-felony drug or alcohol-related crime. This article explains more about the legal process for entering drug courts in Mississippi, what are they, and how these specialized courts help people change their lives.

TABLE OF CONTENTS:


What is a Drug Court?

Mississippi drug courts are special courts that handle cases involving drug use and related crime. The idea is that people respond better to treatment than to punishment. How do they work?

MS drug courts offer comprehensive supervision and connect people to treatment. A drug court usually orders drug testing and treatment services in phases. But if you violate the court orders, a drug court judge can use frequent and immediate sanctions to help you change for the better.

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Mississippi drug courts vary from one jurisdiction to another in terms of structure, scope, and target populations, but they all share three primary goals:

  1. To reduce recidivism
  2. To reduce substance abuse among participants
  3. To rehabilitate participants

Participants undergo long-term treatment and counseling instead of incarceration. In fact, most people come to drug court with multiple problems. This is too much for any agency to handle alone. So, drug courts rely upon daily communication among many different government agencies. How do courts coordinate care?

Drug courts work best when judges, court personnel, probation officers, social workers, and treatment providers can cooperate closely. So, the state’s court model includes the 10 key components published by the Drug Court Program Office of the United States Department of Justice. [1] [2]

Mississippi’s Drug Court History

Drug courts begin when judges notice a community need. They are usually created when a judge observes that drug offenders keep appearing before the bench over and over again. This happened in Mississippi in the early 90’s. As drug-related offenses started filling Mississippi courts dockets, jails became overcrowded. Additionally, probation departments were overloaded.

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Jailing people for drug crimes in Mississippi just didn’t make sense.

In the state of Mississippi, the first drug court began in Ridgeland in 1995. The drug court concept was so effective that it spread quickly. Four years later, the first felony drug court program was created by Judge Keith Starrett in the 14th Circuit Court district. By January 2003, there were seven drug court programs in the state of Mississippi and five more in the planning stages. [3]

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In April of 2003, Senate Bill 2605 was signed into law by the governor. This new law allowed the creation of drug court programs statewide in Chancery, Circuit, County, Youth, Municipal or Justice courts. This law was codified as the Alice Griffin Clarke Drug Court Act, Mississippi Code § 9-23.

Drug courts help people get better. These programs save lives. If you have an addiction problem, a Mississippi drug court may be just what you need. But are you eligible, or not?

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recovery today.

 

Drug Court Requirements and Eligibility in Mississippi

Once you have been identified as a substance abuser, you are going to be screened for drug court eligibility. Most people who go through drug court are nonviolent, initial offenders or probation violators. The most common drugs of abuse for these offenders are marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, and prescription drugs. [4]

According to the Mississippi Code § 9-23-15, in order to be eligible for alternative sentencing, you must satisfy all of the following criteria. [5]

1. You cannot have an felony convictions for any violent crimes defined in MS Code § 97-3-2 in the past 10 years.

2. The crime before the court can’t be a crime of violence or a DUI charge that caused death.

3. The crime before the court cannot be drug trafficking outlined in MS Code § 41-29-139(f), nor can you have a prior conviction for same.

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4. The crime before the court can’t be burglary of a dwelling under MS Code § 97-17-23(2) or MS Code § 97-17-37..

5. Other criminal proceedings alleging commission of a crime of violence cannot be pending against you.

NOTE HERE: Each local drug court program in Mississippi may establish other criteria in addition to these eligibility requirements.

Getting Started

How do you start a drug court program in Mississippi?

  1. After arrest, you should have a first appearance before a judge. During this time, a bond is set, if applicable. At the same time, you retain an attorney or you are appointed a Public Defender. The Defense Counsel will then recommend a Drug Court Coordinator or Probation Officer. The average length of time between arrest and first appearance in drug court is one to three weeks.
  2. Or, you might recommended to a MS drug court directly by Law Enforcement. Usually, Law Enforcement recommends you to an attorney, and then the attorney applies to Drug Court on your behalf.

STEP 1: Referral. If you are an initial felony offender, you can be referred to Mississippi Drug Court by law enforcement or the defense bar. Probation violators are referred to Drug Court by the probation officer. These third-parties complete referral forms on your behalf and fax them to the Drug Court for screening.

STEP 2: Screening. If you are out of custody at the time of referral, you will be contacted by the Drug Court Coordinator or the Probation Officer to report to their office for screening. If you are in jail waiting to be sentenced, the initial screening is done at the jail before they go to court.

STEP 3: Transfer. Screening results are reported to the drug court team. Then, you are required to appear in court to be sentenced to Drug Court. The time between arrest and first appearance in Drug Court is typically three to four weeks.

STEP 4: Assessment. You usually report to the treatment provider for assessment immediately after first appearance in drug court. Assessment starts in the the first two days and treatment starts in seven days from the day they are accepted into the program.

The Process

Each drug court in Mississippi works independently, so processes vary. Generally, you go through four basic phases of step-down treatment in drug court. The idea is that you’re gradually given more freedom of choice the longer you stay in the program. To move from phase to phase, you must have the consensus and positive feedback from the entire Drug Court Team.

Most Mississippi Drug Court Programs usually lasts one to two years. It depends on how well you deal with the structure that is added to your life. Normally, you are going to be required to be in court on a biweekly basis.

Be sure to arrive on time and stay for the entire drug court session. Many drug courts have implemented dress codes for court attendance.

What can you expect in terms of phases?

PHASE 1: In the first phase of drug court, treatment begins. You will be required to submit random urine testing, minimum twice a week. Also you will also have to make a daily call to your Drug Court Program Coordinator or Probation Officer. Expect to attend ninety alcoholics or narcotics anonymous meetings in ninety days. Weekly written assignments will also be required. You’ll need to attend Drug Court Sessions every Monday at Noon.

PHASE 2: In the second phase, you’ll need to seek and maintain employment. Or, you’ll be expected to enroll in school working toward a vocation. Substantial progress toward obtaining a GED is also mandated, as it is necessary. You will also be required to begin and complete the payment of your fines and court fees. Four alcoholics or narcotics anonymous meetings will be required a week. During this phase, you continue your weekly appearance before the judge, weekly writing assignments, and submission of twice weekly urine screens.

PHASE 3: In this phase of MS drug court, requirements include attending two Drug Court Sessions each month and 2-3 urine tests each month. You need to complete your GED during this time, if need be. You must also attend three support group meetings and one aftercare meeting per week. Another requirement is to participate in the Drug Court Relapse Prevention Panel, to provide advice to others in the program.

PHASE 4: In the last phase of drug court in Mississippi, status reports must be submitted on a monthly basis to the court. However, you no longer need to appear before the judge in Drug Court Sessions. However, drug tests will be planned on a random basis. You’ll be given encouragement to attend 3 support group meetings and 1 aftercare meeting per week. In addition to your participation on the Drug Court Relapse Prevention Panel, you are invited to begin participating in a Drug Court alumni Group.

 

Treatment

If you are a part of a Mississippi drug court program, you must follow all rules and regulations of treatment. The addiction treatment program coordinated through drug court includes weekly treatment meetings, weekly 12-step meetings such as AA or NA meetings, and frequent and random drug testing.  If you are not doing well, the judge may order increased drug testing, more meeting attendance, a short jail time, or other creative graduated sanctions.

Mississippi drug court judges may order one or combination of more of the following services:

  • 12-step programs
  • Addiction treatment
  • Budgeting
  • Continued education services
  • General Educational Development
  • Human resources development
  • Individual and group counseling
  • Inpatient treatment
  • Literacy classes
  • Parenting classes
  • Vocational rehabilitation

These are most common services available to many county programs. A case manager supervises your overall treatment, helping you stay on track. The case manager assists with referrals to other agencies to help meet your education, employment and other needs.

Violations

As said before, being accepted into a Mississippi drug court means you must attend all meetings and court sessions and always be on time. But, what happens if you don’t?

Failure to appear in court may result in a warrant for your arrest.

Abstinence from alcohol and other drugs is an ongoing requirement. So, if you fail to comply with rules of the program, it will result in the imposition of immediate consequences.

You may also be terminated from Drug Court through voluntary withdrawal, new felony charges, or tampered urine screens. Furthermore, no drugs, alcohol or weapons are allowed. If your behavior disrupts the treatment of others in the program, you will be removed from the program.  In simple words, not complying with the program’s rules and guidelines gets you out of the drug court treatment program.

Mississippi Drug Court Statistics

In 2017, Mississippi drug courts in Mississippi served more than 5,250 people. The numbers included graduates, people currently enrolled and also those who unfortunately did not successfully complete the program. [6]

But generally, drug courts help people change their lives!

  • Mississippi operated 42 drug treatment programs in 2017.
  • Mississippi drug courts reported 757 graduates in 2017.
  • 980 unemployed people found jobs through MS drug courts in 2017.
  • Participants worked over 27K+ hours of community service in 2017.

If you’re facing a drug or alcohol-related crime sentence, a drug court can help! To learn more, seek help from an attorney. Or, you can call us 24/7 to talk about addiction. We know addiction. We believe in treatment.

Completing Mississippi Drug Court

Successful completion of the treatment program and requirements of the Mississippi drug court result in:

  • Dismissal of the charges
  • Reduced or set aside sentences
  • Lesser penalties

…or a combination of these. Furthermore, if you were sentenced and plead guilty, successful completion of the drug court order and other requirements of probation or suspension of sentence will result in the record of the criminal conviction or adjudication being expunged.

But, most importantly, graduating participants gain the necessary tools to rebuild their own lives.

Your Questions

We tried to offer you a close look into Mississippi’s drug court system. But, if you still have questions, feel free to post them in the comment section below.

Reference Sources: [1] State of Mississippi Judiciary: Drug Courts
[2] U.S. Department of Justice: Bureau of Justice Assistance Defining Drug Courts: THE KEY COMPONENTS
[3] The University of Southern Mississippi: Therapeutic Jurisprudence: An Examination of Mississippi Drug Courts
[4] Justice Programs Office: Policies and Procedures Manual
[5] State of Mississippi Supreme Court: Mississippi Drug Court Rules
[6] State of Mississippi Judiciary: Supreme Court Annual Report – Mississippi Supreme Court
State of Mississippi: Review of the Feasibility of Extending Drug Courts Statewide in Mississippi
Mississippi Drug Court Advisory Committee: Progress Report on Mississippi Drug Courts
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.

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