TUPELO – Members of the Lee County Board of Supervisors may see familiar faces at future meetings as the group decides whether to fund the county’s misdemeanor drug court.
Two dozen or so pastors and other supports of the local drug court attended the board’s meeting Monday, looking for county taxpayer funding to keep the court functioning.
“Why can’t the people of this county have a chance at redemption if they mess up?” asked the Rev. Jeffrey Gladney, pastor of Red Oak Grove M.B. Church. “We plead with you to keep the drug court open.”
To encourage supervisors to fund the small-offense drug court operating in Lee County for 41⁄2 years, Gladney and others plan to attend board meetings and make other appearances.
“We’re not going to just make our proposal and walk away,” the minister said. “If we have to march, picket or stay down there, we’ll do whatever we have to do.”
Since July, the Lee County Drug Court, led by Justice Court Judge Rickey Thompson, has operated without additional funding from the state, which has funded the program annually through a $75,000 grant.
While the first drug court in the state focused on misdemeanors, the non-traditional court involving constant monitoring, supervision and drug testing of participants in exchange for dismissed or lesser sentences has mostly focused on the felony level in Mississippi.
Currently, the state has five misdemeanor-level drug courts, said Joey Craft, state drug court coordinator with the Administrative Office of Courts in Jackson, none of which currently receive funding from the state. With increasing demand for funds, the State Drug Court Advisory Board slashed the misdemeanor court funds to help fund felony drug courts in the state, which received their own cuts of about 25 percent.
Drug courts in Mississippi are funded through a $10 assessment on all criminal convictions statewide.
State lawmakers and policy experts see direct return on investment of felony-level drug courts, which have demonstrated a decrease in cost compared to participants serving time in state prison and showed connections to lowered recidivism rates. However, less data is available to show similar benefits of small-offense drug court.
“It’s good to think that if you can help a person before they graduate to felony offense you’re doing some good,” Craft said. “But we really don’t have any hard data on that.”
Lee County Board of Supervisors President Bobby G. Smith said Thompson and other supporters of the drug court were advised when the program began that the county had no plans to fund it. As for whether the county will help fund the program now, Smith wasn’t ready to commit.
“We take every budget request very seriously,” he said.