By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – The Third District Drug Court lauded its first eight graduates on Tuesday at the Lafayette County Courthouse.
“This is a day we’ve been looking forward to for three years,” said Circuit Judge Andy Howorth, who oversees the court’s more than 200 participants. Noting that he never expected to find the program so personally gratifying, he described it as his “labor of love.”
Drug court is a chance for first-time offenders facing drug convictions to get help staying sober and out of jail. Many of those chosen for the program may have their records expunged if they succeed; if they fail, they face prison. Frequent drug tests, regular work and avoidance of bad influences are required parts of the program.
Local police and sheriff’s officers, who often know offenders and their families, usually predict best who will make best use of drug court’s offer of a second chance.
“Our best referrals, consistently good referrals, come from law enforcement,” Howorth said.
Mississippi State Supreme Court Justice George Carlson of Batesville lauded the second-chance program.
“When Drug Court first was being talked about, it was not popular. It was perceived as ‘soft on crime,’ but … the numbers speak for themselves,” he said. Even discounting the human toll of incarceration, just keeping the 2,500 felony-level participants out of prison saves the state nearly $45 million each year, and 26 drug-free babies have been born to mothers in the program.
“There’s nobody in this room any better than you are. We’re all sinners; we’ve all got our failures,” Carlson told the graduates. “We’re on this earth together, and we’re here not to be served, but to serve. I encourage you to give of yourselves.”
Graduate Louis Lipsey credited Drug Court with his transformation from a hard-drinking homeless man to a hard-working family man. Before his mother died earlier this year, he said, “I was able to give her a gift she had always wanted – to see her son sober and with a good woman.”
Fellow graduate Stacie Gipson reflected a similar gratitude for her family and the sobriety she found in Drug Court.
“I had good parents; they were not drug addicts, but they put up with their hardheaded daughter,” she said. “I’m so glad God let me get through this so I could bless them.”