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Grants from state to fund new courts

Programs for offenders with drug, mental health issues

POSTED: June 27, 2013 12:26 a.m.

Forsyth County will implement two new accountability courts and enhance existing ones with recently awarded state grant funding.

The Georgia Criminal Justice Coordinating Council has granted about $47,000 to launch a mental health court and nearly $118,000 to start a misdemeanor drug court.

The new accountability courts will join the county’s existing drug and DUI courts, which also received state grants.

Such courts provide an alternative path for offenders with mental health or substance abuse issues by increasing judicial supervision and offering resources for treatment.

The aim is to reduce repeat appearances in court, something the drug and DUI courts have been largely successful with in Forsyth.

Commissioners voted 5-0 on Tuesday to accept the grants from the state, which Forsyth County State Court Judge Leslie Abernathy-Maddox said she expects will continue to be offered annually under Gov. Nathan Deal’s administration.

“He is continuing to push and ensure that there is funding for our accountability courts,” said Abernathy-Maddox, who will preside over both of the new programs.

The misdemeanor drug court grant will allow for the hiring of a program coordinator, drug tests and office supplies. That court is expected to launch later this year.

The mental health court requires a different model than existing accountability courts, and so more groundwork will need to be done before its debut in early 2014, said Abernathy-Maddox.

“It is not as much of a straight-out-of-the-box treatment court program as DUI court and drug court,” she said. “It requires that we build a firm foundation and establish relationships with treatment services in the community.”

The grant will allow the county to hire a program coordinator, hopefully in late September, to begin that work with local agencies.

Participants in the mental health court will need quick access to resources that will help them “become more stable and less likely to interact with the criminal justice system,” Abernathy-Maddox said.

She said Forsyth expects to model its mental health court after Hall County, which has had the program in place since late 2004.

The mental health court has long been a goal of Forsyth County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Bagley, who said Monday that he was pleased Abernathy-Maddox had volunteered to preside over it.

Bagley has a full caseload in his drug court, which launched in 2004.

The local drug court has received state grant awards for 10 years, and the funding increased this year to about $225,000.

The money goes toward treatment, more extensive drug testing, supervision and a new accountability courts director, which Bagley said will improve the operation’s organization.

The additional testing and supervision for the drug court increases accountability, he said.

“In our drug court, we’re utilizing a lot of the state money to really hold our participants’ feet to the fire and catch them if they are trying to use some of the synthetic marijuanas and things of that nature that we don’t normally have on our test screen,” he said.

The funding also allows for random home visits from deputies.

The DUI court received about $50,000 in state funding this year, which will fund surveillance, psychological evaluations and testing.

Forsyth County State Court Judge Russell McClelland presides over that program.


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