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Clayton officials plan drug court program

By Linda Looney-Bond

lbond@news-daily.com

Clayton County Superior Court, with the assistance of several county and community agencies, is preparing to launch an Adult Felony Drug Court program.

Representatives from more than a dozen agencies including Clayton County's police department, sheriff's office, department of corrections, and board of health met Thursday for a community stakeholders meeting to discuss the status of the program.

The drug court, which is scheduled to begin operating Sept. 1, is designed to address substance abuse and addiction-driven crimes, according to Superior Court Judge Albert Collier, who will be the program's presiding judge.

"It's going to be a very strict program with a lot of accountability in it," Collier said.

"Most [drug-addicted] people going to prison serve their time, then get out, and the first thing they're looking for is 'how can I get high?'" he said. "If we can get these people turned around, we'll never see these people in the criminal justice system again."

The Adult Felony Drug Court program will provide sentencing alternatives to traditional incarceration, and will address the recidivism rates of non-violent offenders with substance-abuse problems, according to Collier. Non-violent felonies would include thefts, burglaries and financial identity fraud, Collier said.

Participants in the program will be able to receive outpatient and residential substance-abuse treatment, and must submit to frequent drug testing, according to a statement issued by the court. Drug court participants will also be required to complete educational and vocational training programs, maintain stable housing and employment, and participate in community service activities.

Collier said those accepted into the program will also be required to appear before him in court once per week, on Fridays, in a hearing that will be open to the public.

"For many people, this is their last hope," Collier said.

"I think it's incredibly important," Clayton County District Attorney Tracy Graham Lawson said of the planned program. "People that are addicted to drugs have a disease, and unless you help them with that disease, it's like a revolving door of the prison system.

"It's an all-around win. It's less expensive for the judicial system," said Graham Lawson. "It puts families back together and it makes the person have a life again."

"Drug courts are very prevalent in the state of Georgia," said Collier. He said examples of successful drug courts include a Drug DUI Program in Clayton County State Court, as well as drug court programs in DeKalb and Lamar counties.