TUPELO – Without new funding sources, Lee County misdemeanor drug court can likely function at “bare minimum” for about nine months.
Since the state funding of $75,000 annually ended in July, the future for Lee County’s program appears uncertain. Lee County Justice Court Judge Rickey Thompson, who has volunteered to lead the misdemeanor drug court for four and a half years, said the program has made an impact on dozens of individuals and families and currently has about 60 participants.
Current funding limits required Thompson to eliminate a part-time staffer for the program, functioning on a “bare bones” operation. Most funding goes toward counseling services and drug testing.
Looking at sources of revenue to keep the drug court afloat, Thompson and other program advocates have reached out for county government support, along with groups or individuals interested in helping the program continue to provide counseling and other support for people with drug problems.
“It helps misdemeanor offenders get their life together,” Thompson said. “We catch them early enough.”
While each of the state’s 22 circuit court districts operate drug court for felony crimes, the five misdemeanor drug courts in the state lost funding due to increased demand of resources. However, Thompson and other small-offense drug court judges support finding ways to keep the system functioning.
Participates in the small crime drug court program must pay fines owed from crimes committed, along with $50 a month for drug court costs, a maximum of $600 a year. If participation hits 125 people annually, program fees will match state funding.
Advocates for the program say they will encourage other justice court judges in the county to recommend drug court to more potential participants.
County elected officials have said they’d consider funding requests for the program previously supported by the state. However, Bobby Smith, president of the Lee County Board of Supervisors, said supervisors must stay within the county’s budget. He also said the board rubber-stamped the program supported by Thompson on the condition that no county tax dollars supported it.
Whether through county funding or other means, Thompson said the misdemeanor drug court provides an important service to the community, helping steer people headed toward drug addiction back toward the path of a productive resident.
The misdemeanor drug court also has an extension, Veterans Support Court, which reaches out to troubled veterans as an intervention.
In exchange for successfully completing the program, offenders receive the misdemeanor crime expunged from their records and support to help turn their life around. The program often includes helping participants receive GED diplomas and encourages them to get jobs.