from left, Steering Committee Chairwoman Dr. Donna McCarty, Vice-Chairman Todd Cox, Clayton County Commission Chairman Jeff Turner and member Nathaniel Mingo, representing the City of Riverdale. (Staff Photo: Kathy Jefcoats)
JONESBORO — Transportation continues to be a stumbling block for participants in Clayton County’s Accountability Courts but a solution may be wheeling in soon.
Clayton County Commission Chairman Jeff Turner is a member of the courts’ steering committee and shared good news with the board during a quarterly meeting Friday.
“I’m encouraged by the feasibility study,” he said. “I think we will have some type of transportation in place by this time next year. It only makes sense.”
Participants must have a means of transportation, according to the program rules. Those with DUI convictions often have a suspended license and rely on walking, cycling or having someone drive them to work, court and meetings.
One solution has been bicycles. Accountability Courts Coordinator Deborah Boddie said the program got five new bikes.
“They are tagged with Clayton County information and the locks are matched to each bike,” she said. “We’ve got three bikes that need to be put together because we have three participants waiting on them.”
Committee members briefly discussed asking representatives from the faith-based community with church vans to provide transportation until mass transit is available.
Drug Court Case Manager Toni Bell said officials are encouraged by recent news of hundreds of jobs coming to Clayton County. Participants must be employed.
“We’ve noticed that things are picking up,” she said. “We’ve even got participants spreading the word to other participants about job opportunities, who is hiring, things like that. Fresh Express and Frito Lay have been great employers.”
Committee Vice-Chairman Todd Cox, who is a Drug Court graduate, said churches have also been a good source of jobs.
A stakeholders meeting is planned June 23, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., at the aquatic center near the courthouse in Jonesboro. Letters have been sent out to businesses throughout the county that officials believe can provide jobs and other services to Accountability Courts participants.
Chairwoman Dr. Donna McCarty of Clayton State University said the meeting should be more than just a social gathering.
“We are hoping they will see the benefits of this program and be willing to pitch in to help where they can,” she said. “The meeting needs to be motivating to these folks.”
Clayton County Court Administrator Matt Sorenson agreed.
“We want to put the participants out there as cash customers again,” he said. “That should be important to stakeholders as much as their willingness to hire them.”
Committee members are also still looking for appropriate housing for participants. The courts have about $100,000 in grant money to pay for housing costs, said Andrea Saxon, Felony Drug Court coordinator. Boddie said it is easier to find housing for men than women but that one landlord has stepped forward to give a mother and newborn child a place to live.
Other locations tossed around weren’t as well-received.
“That’s a good place to relapse,” said Turner of one offering. “We need housing that is conducive to recovery.”
There are 82 participants in Accountability Courts, said Sorenson.
“Based on studies, 60 participants in Drug Court is ideal,” he said. “But it’s a pretty big workload for the staff. We’re trying to make the programs efficient without touching the General Fund. That’s why there’s a need to get the community involved.”
He suggested using volunteer mentors to fill in on issues easily handled but calling on the court staff on more important decisions. Cox said getting other graduates involved is key to showing participants that the program works.
“A graduate’s testimony is a very positive thing,” he said. “When I speak to groups at Blue Ridge Mountain Recovery, I pass out copies of my mugshot so they can see the before and after. They need to know it can be done, to get to the other side and see there is life out there, that they are not doing this for nothing.”
Sorenson said participants could use mentoring time toward paying off fees or community service but that decision would be up to the judges who head the two programs. Clayton County Superior Court Judge Albert Collier oversees the Felony Adult Drug Court and State Court Judge Linda S. Cowen supervises the DUI Court.
For more information on Accountability Courts, how to make a donation or offer transportation, housing or jobs to the programs, call 770-477-3415.