Drug court finds way around cuts

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Hinds County Circuit Court Judge Winston Kidd

AP file photo

Hinds County Circuit Court Judge Winston Kidd

The closure of a Central Mississippi drug-treatment program had the potential to be disastrous for a Hinds County drug court.

But the judge who runs the program, with help from the state Mental Health department, has found a way to keep the program afloat.

The problems started earlier this year. When the Legislature approved a state spending plan, the Mississippi Department of Mental Health saw its funding cut by $8.3 million.

In response to those budget cuts, the agency eliminated more than 100 beds in adult-male chemical dependency units at East Mississippi State Hospital, South Mississippi State Hospital and Mississippi State Hospital.

“We used to send males to the state hospital (Whitfield). They had a great program. With the new budget, they’ve closed so our options are limited. It’s causing quite a few problems for us right now,” Hinds County Circuit Judge Winston Kidd told Mississippi Today.

The problems mostly affect poor defendants, said Kidd, who has overseen the adult felony drug court in the state’s most populous county for five years.

Drug courts are an alternative sentencing program used around the state for people charged with nonviolent crimes that may have resulted from a drug or alcohol addiction.

People plead into the program, meaning they plead guilty to the crime with which they’re charged. From there, a case manager develops a treatment plan, which can include outpatient or inpatient drug treatment. Participation is monitored and must be completed to the court’s satisfaction to avoid jail time.

When participants can afford to pay for treatment, they can go to a private treatment facility; when they’re poor, it gets trickier. Poor participants can try to negotiate cheaper costs with provide treatment centers — or the court can on the participant’s behalf — but that isn’t always successful. Some people who cannot get into a residential program have to be incarcerated.

Recently, Kidd has found another option for people who would benefit from residential treatment but can’t afford it: Intensive outpatient treatment at Hinds Behavioral Health Services in Jackson.

To help offset the loss of the chemical-dependency units at state-run facilities, the Department of Mental Health has increased funding to the 15 community mental-health centers like Hinds Behavioral.

Mississippi State Hospital.

Mississippi State Hospital

Mississippi State Hospital

Adam Moore, a spokesman for the Mississippi Department of Mental Health, said since the closures at the state hospitals the agency’s Bureau of Alcohol and Drug Services has increased the funding available for indigent beds at community mental health centers by approximately $400,000.

The Department of Mental Health “recognizes the need our state has for drug and alcohol treatment services, and has increased the amount of this indigent funding that is made available” to community mental health centers, Moore told Mississippi Today.

Wilma Pittman, a social worker who has run Hinds Behavioral Health’s intensive outpatient treatment program since its inception in October 2015, said the integration of drug court participants has worked well.

A benefit of outpatient treatment — three days a week, for three hours a day – over residential treatment is that participants can maintain relationships with loved ones and keep working, Pittman said.

Pittman, whose mantra for the goals of treatment is “educate and motivate,” said drug court participants receive the same treatment as everyone else. The only difference is counselors have to track participants’ attendance for drug court officials.

“I think the program is going excellent,” Pittman said. “Even if people relapse, they’ll have the tools to continue their journey to sobriety.”

Even though the slightly reconfigured program seems to be running smoothly, Kidd points to the increase in drug-court participation since he took on the program in 2011, from 58 participants to approximately 150 today. He sees that as one reason the Legislature should consider allocating more money for treatment as well as funding full-time drug court judges.

Kidd and Pittman, the counselor, would also like to have funding for transportation so participants can get to and from counseling sessions.

“Even though they committed a crime, if you can help them so they don’t commit crime again, everybody benefits,” Kidd said.