New Drug Court explained at Rotary

Published 5:01 pm Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Mike Bankston, chief assistant district attorney with the South Georgia Judicial Circuit, told Rotary this week that he believes the war on drugs as it has been waged is not working.

He continued to describe a new program referred to as drug court that is mandated by the State of Georgia. It is in the process of being developed all across the state. The local DA office has written a first grant from the state and has had technical assistance in the development of the process.

It basically separates those with drug problems from those who are dealers, with intervention planned for those who qualify. An initial screening by the District Attorney’s office tries to determine the best counseling method for each offender. They are then placed in a 24-month structured environment, where they are monitored, counseled, and tested regularly. Homes must pass pre-qualification.

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“It has a chance of working for some,” said Bankston, who acknowledges it won’t work for all.

The program will be kicked off first in Mitchell County on July 1, then incorporated into the other counties in the circuit.

Responding to questions from the audience, Bankston affirmed there is no incarceration initially. “The thrust is abstinence, passing the screening and performing community service. Even some second time offenders can be qualified,” he explained; but continual failure will result in jail.

Asked what percentage of arrests would be eligible, Bankston answered it was hard to say as there are so many repeat offenders. He thinks probably 25 percent.

He further asserts this should be less expensive than the incarceration process.

Citing the cost of keeping one prisoner in jail for one year as $31,000, Bankston, said he believes this is a better and less expensive way.

He explained there is a finite number of beds in state prisons and that they are filled with serious offenders. “There is little space left for non-violent offenders, and it is extremely expensive to build new facilities,” he added.

Bankston stressed that dealers will not qualify for the program and in the case of a big dealer, those cases would be encouraged to go to the federal system.

Although each offender would be encouraged to have an investment in the program, many cannot afford to pay. They could be offering community service.

Bankston closed by saying the drug situation has gotten out of hand, with more and more highly addictive drugs making the scene.

“It hurts all of society. If we can keep them out of jail and get them employed, it will all be positive.”