Moultrie Observer

Local News

November 20, 2012

Colquitt County drug court to debut in January

MOULTRIE — Beginning next year, non-violent drug offenders will have another option besides prison or traditional probation.

Through a $136,085 grant, Colquitt County will be the first in the Southern Judicial Circuit to establish a separate court to deal with drug offenders and offenders with mental health issues. The grant will allow the court to operate through June 2013.

Since the grant was awarded in October, a court coordinator, Jennifer Fabbri, has been hired and will be paid out of grant funds, with the first cases scheduled to be heard on Jan. 18. Georgia Pines, based in Thomasville, has been contracted to provide mental health and drug treatment.

Defendants who plead guilty in the court will appear each two weeks before a team that includes Judge Frank Horkan, an assistant district attorney, public defender, probation officer, law enforcement officer and treatment provider, Horkan said.

The court will consider defendants who do not have a history of violence and have felony cases pending before Superior Court.

“They will be evaluated as to whether this program will benefit them,” Horkan said. “The defendant will have the criteria explained and decide whether to follow the normal probation track or get on the substance abuse track or mental health track. Sometimes you have some who have both addiction and mental health.”

The new process will “not be easy” for those who choose it, he said.

During meetings every two weeks, the team will evaluate whether the defendant is meeting mandatory criteria, and if not decide on appropriate sanctions, Horkan said. Those in the program also will be required to undergo intensive therapy, frequent drug testing and will be subject to monitoring by a probation officer.

Horkan also plans to seek a second grant that will allow the program to operate for a full year after the initial grant money expires in June. He said he does not anticipate it becoming a stand-alone program that can maintain itself through fines and fees paid by defendants.

However, he thinks it can be a good thing for the community.

“I guess over a period of time I have seen individuals, (and) I think most all of us know someone who has become addicted to meth, cocaine, even prescription drugs, to the point they lose their jobs, they start abusing their family — if not physically, mentally,” he said. “They’re not supporting their families, they’re not supporting their children. I have seen cases of people who have been successful; some of them have become involved in helping people who have like problems.

“Some people really need an opportunity so we can get them back as productive members.”

District Attorney David Miller said that a number of drug courts have gone into operation around the state, and some have been quite successful. Some of his office’s employees will take a 40-hour training course.

“We’re certainly willing to make it work,” he said. “There are certainly some drug courts that have had tremendous success. Quite frankly, what we’re doing now doesn’t work. It’s a revolving door.”

The state seems to be making such programs a priority in order to reduce the numbers of prisoners it incarcerates, he said. In turn, district attorneys will need more funding to handle the heavier caseload.

A routine case of drug possession in which a defendant enters a guilty plea, for example, requires an assistant district attorney to appear once in court and is disposed of, Miller said. However, the drug court will require an assistant to attend a team meeting every other Friday with the same defendants for 26 weeks out of the year.

“The Legislature has made it clear that they want to reduce the prison population, and one way they can do that is for drug offenders to go to drug courts,” he said. “It’s supposed to save bookoodles of money in the prison system. If it does, some of that money needs to be directed to the DA’s offices.

“We’re cautiously optimistic it could work, but we have high anxiety over how we’re going to get the resources to make it happen.”

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