Adult non-violent drug offenders may soon have an alternative to jail time.
On Monday, Municipal Court Judge Kuykendall Murry made an appeal to the Indianola Board of Alderman to establish an adult Municipal Drug Court and the city lawmakers voted unanimously to approve the concept pending certification and state and federal funding approval.
Flanked by Judge Margaret Carey-McCray, who presides over the Fourth District Drug Court, Sheriff James Haywood, Chief Edrick Hall, Dr. Adrian Brown, Ph.D and Municipal Court Clerk Teresa Nolden, Murry spoke on the benefits of the drug court program and also presented the city lawmakers with documentation that explained how the program works.
Murry’s goal and the aim of the court would be to use its resources to assist and support non-violent drug and drug-related violators while they are still at the misdemeanor level. She spoke on the benefits of addressing the problems early.
Judge Carey-McCray, who according to Murry has more than 17 years of experience with the Fourth District Drug Court, concurred. Carey-McCray said, “We’re going to spend resources on them one way or another. So, instead of using it for jail, let’s see if we can do some things to restore them to the community.”
The honorable judge welcomed the establishment of the court at the municipal level and mentioned how elated they were when Greenwood chose to institute its drug court program. “It helps us, it helps the felony courts. We can stop someone who has a problem and give them support while they are still on a misdemeanor level and in a municipal court it’s cheaper to do it that way and it is more effective,” said Carey-McCray. The Fourth District court is a felony court and according to Carey-McCray, it is hard to quantify the benefits that come from it. “We have had tremendous success with intervening and helping people kind of turn their lives around and become more responsible members of the community,” she said.
Carey-McCray said not establishing a municipal drug court would be “a missed opportunity” for the city. She told the board members that the adult drug courts have been very successful nationally and locally.
Referencing the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, Judge Carey-McCray said its policy statement contends that there should be a drug court within the reach of every person in need.
Murry said she plans to use the same guidelines currently being used by the Fourth District court and the City of Greenwood Municipal Drug Court, which according to her is one of only two municipal drug court currently operating the state. “Rather than reinvent the wheel, we want to improve on what they’ve done and also do what they’ve done,” Murry said.
In addition to approving the establishment of the drug court the city leaders also voted unanimously to apply to the State of Mississippi Office of Administrative Courts for the establishment of the drug court, which provides a $50,000 annual grant that requires a $25,000 match from the city.
They also voted to provide the required $25,000 match money, approve the application for the United States Department of Justice FY 2019 Adult Drug Court Discretionary Grant, which could provide up to $500,000 and to enlist the services of Brown and Associates, Inc, to assist, prepare, develop and submit all of the required applications and documents.
Brown told the board his firm’s professional services fees would be $125 per hour, However he is proposing a 40-hour cap, even though he estimates that it will require more than 40 hours of service. In the event, his firm would donate any additional hours.
Murry explained that the drug court would be designed to support non-violent, adults offenders who are arrested on drug or drug-related charges and meet a certain criterion. After the person is arrested their paperwork must be sent to the Municipal Court so they can be placed on the docket for trial and or arraignment.
The defendant must appear in open court, be advised by the judge, be referred to the drug court program and have their initial screening to determine eligibility.
If the person is eligible, the coordinator will then explain the program to the defendant, the forms are completed and they are assigned a drug court appearance date. However, if the person is not eligible then they will have to go through the traditional prosecution process.
An eligible person would be subjected to a chemical addiction assessment and if there is a diagnosis, the person will have to enter a guilty plea and will enter into the drug court. However, if there is no diagnosis then they would have to continue through tradition processes.
Murry said the program typically last for one year and it has three phases that lead up to graduation. Phase one is one to five months, phase two is typically four months and graduation requirements necessitate that they be sober for a full year, have not committed any crimes or offenses within 6 months and also be successfully engage in education or work.
In addition, all of the drug court fees must be paid in full. The drug court also has an after-care plan.
The program offers incentives for successful compliance and sanctions if the defendant fails to adhere to drug court rules. The defendant has to agree to abide by the rules of the program and sign a contractual agreement.
The applications for the establishment of the court must be submitted before June 1.