A new accountability court is starting up in the local criminal justice system this month.
The misdemeanor drug court in Forsyth County State Court will provide a new option for those who plead guilty to charges such as possession of marijuana, drugs in wrong container and other minor offenses.
Participants will be required to see a judge twice each month, cease drug use and pass required screenings, said State Court Judge Leslie Abernathy-Maddox, who will preside over the program.
They will also receive treatment and education to address their drug use.
Those who successfully complete the program can have the charges dismissed and possibly have the conviction wiped from their criminal records background check.
“Not only do they get very high quality drug addiction counseling and intervention at a very low cost to them … many participants when referred by the prosecutor [also] will have the opportunity if they successfully complete to have a restriction of their records,” Abernathy-Maddox said.
Forsyth County will mark the 10thanniversary of its felony drug court program later this month, and the new misdemeanor court will follow the same model.
The past experiences from participants in the Superior Court felony drug court were part of the reason officials hoped to institute the program at the State Court level, Abernathy-Maddox said.
“Many participants in drug court started out using marijuana and said that it has been a gateway drug,” she said. “Our goal here is early intervention and to thereby alleviate some of the later dependence on felony drugs and alleviate that burden on society and the participants.”
Forsyth received a grant from the state in June to implement the misdemeanor drug court, making it the second county in Georgia to do so, following nearby Cherokee.
The county already had two accountability courts, one for felony drug offenses and one for DUIs, and will double that number this year.
In addition to misdemeanor drug court, the state also granted funds to start a mental health court, which is expected to launch in April.
Abernathy-Maddox said the state has been supportive of accountability courts.
“I think that the governor and the legislature have seen the tremendous impact that it can make in lives and the decrease in cost in the criminal justice system and the department of corrections system by implementing these accountability courts,” she said.
In misdemeanor drug court, cases will be reviewed by the solicitor’s office to determine who may be eligible to participate, said Tyler Mathis, coordinator for the State Court drug court.
Mathis expects to average between 30 and 40 people in the court at any given time, and the program limit has a maximum of 50 participants.
Most participants likely will be between ages 18 and 25.
“We’re finding more and more that it’s younger people who are beginning to use this and creating a dependency on it,” Mathis said.
“And by doing that, we want to create this program where we can get them help and get them back on the right track so they don’t ruin their lives with drugs.”