Criminal Sentencing Part 2 - WHLT 22 Connecting the Pine Belt

Criminal Sentencing Part 2

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Drug court is a three year program, an option that judges can choose if the criminal is a drug addict. It's an alternative to incarceration.

According to the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, 75 percent of adult criminal drug court graduates never see another pair of handcuffs again.

Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant has claimed that for every 100 people in drug court, the state saves a millions dollars. There are 260 people in the Forrest-Perry County Drug Court Program alone. Those are presided over by Judge Bob Helfrich.

Something you normally wouldn't hear a circuit court judge say to the criminals he's sentenced.

But to this judge, these players are Helfrich's heroes.

"It's fun and it's clean fun and a lot have never had anybody clap for them in a long time, so it's pretty good," says Judge Bob Helfrich.

That's because most of them are recovering drug addicts, and a part of Helfrich's drug court program.

"I've been clean right at two years," says Danny Bartee.

"It's kept me off the streets. It got my life back; got my family back," says Micah Anderson.

But it hasn't been an easy road for those in the program, like Danny Bartee and Micah Anderson, two Helfrich Heroes softball players and recovering addicts.

Everything I did just went wrong, and I called myself looking for a way out but couldn't find it. It found me, though, and I'm glad I got accepted into the program," says Bartee.

"It gives a bad person a second chance to make good of themselves," says Anderson.

Danny is in his second year of drug court, with only a year to go before graduation. Micah is on his third year, and if Helfrich allows, he'll graduate from the program this year.

"It has totally changed my life like day and night," says Anderson.

"Drug court is not easy. It's a three year program. They get to see me every week. They get tested twice a week. They're subject to home visits," says Helfrich.

The program is a four step process. Filled with AA meetings and self help groups, each participant is required to have a job or attend school, and complete whatever treatment is prescribed to them.

"We address the addiction issue and allow them to live a drug free life and teach them how to live a drug free life," says Helfrich.

Helfrich says that's why he gives these criminals the opportunity for drug court instead of sending them straight to prison.

"The criminal justice system is broken. We don't rehabilitate in prison; we warehouse," says Helfrich.

According to Helfrich, the chance of a non-drug court person returning to prison is 67-72 percent. A drug court graduate has only a 16 percent chance of re-incarceration.

"It just offers a new life," says Helfrich.

A new life that Helfrich's heroes feel they owe to him.

"He saved my life. He saved my life and many other lives just like me," says Anderson

Those successfully completing the drug court program this spring will graduate on May 29th.

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