First step taken for drug court, Judge Vollor says

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 30, 2004

[1/30/04]A first step has been taken toward establishing a drug-court program in Warren County, Circuit Court Judge Frank Vollor told grand jurors Thursday.

Vollor said he has enlisted the help of a grant-writing specialist, who identified a potential source of startup funding for such a program.

About half the 51 cases presented to jurors who had been in session for four days involved charges of possession or sale of illegal drugs.

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State officials have encouraged circuit judges to begin drug-court programs, but little funding has been made available.

The programs provide supervision instead of prison time for defendants who plead guilty to nonviolent crimes rooted in drug-addiction.

Vollor said he had discussed the idea with executives of the Warren-Yazoo Mental Health Services.

“We are supportive, and we are going to do all we can to help it be established,” said Don Brown, executive director of the agency. Staff grant-writer Leigh Cook will help in the effort to identify funds for the program, Brown added.

In addition to reviewing felony charges and issuing indictments in criminal cases, grand juries are charged with examining law-enforcement in general and other city and county matters. Juries are composed of 18 to 21 citizens chosen at random from voter rolls and are selected four times a year in Warren County.

In their report, grand jurors said they “would like the (Vicksburg) police department to continue emphasis on narcotic crimes as it is the primary cause of a vast majority of the cases heard.”

Jurors also met with Vicksburg Mayor Laurence Leyens, Vicksburg Warren School Superintendent Dr. James Price, Vicksburg Police Chief Tommy Moffett, Warren County Court and Youth Court Judge Johnny Price and Warren County Prosecutor Richard Johnson.

They toured the Warren County Jail, the Vicksburg Police Department and the county’s youth detention center.

In a new recommendation, grand jurors advised the county to “build a new jail with state-of-the-art security and surveillance.”

During the past two years the existing jail, which opened in 1979, has been expanded and had its roof replaced at a cost of about $1.2 million. The older part of the complex, at the corner of Grove and Cherry streets, was built in 1906.

Jurors also recommended “improved lighting for inmates in the cells and holding tanks,” “improved bedding for female inmates,” and “additional surveillance cameras for the safety of the staff.”

Sheriff Martin Pace, who manages the jail, said he was aware that the jail’s interior lighting may need to be improved “for the officers’ safety as well as the inmates’ comfort.” A similar recommendation was made by the grand jury that met in January 2003.

The digital surveillance-camera system has been ordered and is in this year’s department budget, Pace said.

Among jurors’ suggestions for the police department were to continually recruit qualified officers, improve its system of organizing evidence and provide additional training to officers on presentation skills.

The panel suggested that the Vicksburg Warren School District teacher in Youth Court be provided with an assistant.

Jurors also asked for more grand-jury meeting space and a larger table in the room.