Lee County drug court celebrates grand opening

TUPELO – Dozens of well-wishers gathered on the steps of the Lee County Justice Court building Monday morning to fete the grand opening of the area’s new misdemeanor drug court.
Although the court opened in February, staff members waited to hold their celebration until May to coincide with similar ceremonies nationwide on the 20th anniversary of U.S. drug courts.
“Now Lee County is on board,” Justice Court Drug Court Judge Rickey Thompson told the crowd, which included city and county law-enforcement officials, Tupelo Mayor Ed Neelly and county Board of Supervisors President Tommie Lee Ivy.
It also included several residents who came to offer their congratulations.
“I think it’s going to help people get their lives back in order and rectify their mistakes,” said Mack-Arthur Turner, an Itawamba Community College student. “I think it’s a program of redemption.”
This is the county’s first small-offense drug court, and it joins a felony drug court already in operation through the 1st Judicial District system, which represents seven counties, including Lee. That program currently has 49 participants.
Circuit Court Judge Jim Pounds said he hopes the misdemeanor drug court helps petty criminals turn their lives around before they end up in his system.
The misdemeanor drug court has 10 participants but could expand to more than two dozen before the end of the year, said its director and coordinator, Shirley Moon. Participation is voluntary and includes monthly court appearances, counseling and random drug tests.
“I’ve seen a change in lifestyle since I’ve been here,” Moon said. “One got his 13-year-old son and is raising him now. Some were unemployed when they got here, and now they are employed. Several have enrolled in GED programs.”
Drug court participants relapse into crime 14.6 percent of the time versus 42 percent for other offenders, said 1st Judicial Drug Court Coordinator Jennifer Cummings. She also said drug court costs about $2,500 per participant versus $16,159 to house that person in jail one year.
“I’m glad to see the community support,” Thompson said as guests enjoyed a large spread of food. “That’s exactly what we need to make this program work.”
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com.

Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal