By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Rain fell Friday morning as some 30 people entered a small courtroom inside the Lee County Justice Court building.
They were young and old, black and white, male and female – all united by a common trait: Each had committed a misdemeanor caused, in part, by drug or alcohol addiction.
And each had been selected to participate in the county’s fledgling Justice Court Drug Court program.
This month marks the program’s one-year anniversary. Since its debut, 28 participants have enrolled for a chance to clean up their lives and clear their criminal record.
The program was launched by Justice Court Judge Rickey Thompson. It’s 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, Pontotoc and Itawamba.
Drug court participants either must have full-time jobs or be enrolled in school, submit to regular drug and alcohol tests, and meet with the court monthly for case reviews. Some also are required to attend parenting classes and get counseling.
After they successfully complete the 12-18-month program, they have the opportunity to clear their record of the misdemeanor.
The first group of participants is scheduled to graduate next month, said Shirley Moon, the program’s director.
On Friday, people in various stages of the program attended a mandatory court hearing led by Thompson and his staff. Thompson called participants to the bench, one by one, to review their progress.
“I’m real proud of you,” he told one man in his 20s. “You’re a model participant. You’re doing everything right.”
The man then turned to the court and told fellow participants that the program helped him “make a step in the right direction.”
Another man, with a full graying beard and round belly, told the court after his turn at the bench that his “life is a lot better now, all because of drug court.”
Thompson had positive remarks for nearly each person as they took their turn at the bench. But his kindness stretched only so far: He threatened to send one pregnant woman to jail if she didn’t enroll in a GED program by next month. He also locked up two people who failed their random drug tests Friday.
“They usually only need to go to jail once to see we’re serious,” Moon told the Daily Journal, citing marijuana as the most common drug problem among participants.
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or firstname.lastname@example.org.