Craighead County drug court making difference, Circuit Judge says

by Michael Wilkey ([email protected]) 497 views 

Circuit Judge Melissa Richardson said the county’s drug court program recently received a $53,000 grant to provide local options for drug treatment, money that has proven to help rehabilitate addicts.

The grant from the Arkansas Community Corrections Accountability Project was the key topic of discussion for the Craighead County Finance Committee. Committee members gave a “do pass” recommendation, sending it to the full court on March 28.

Nine people recently graduated from the program in Jonesboro, which can take as little as 23 months to complete. The program is also used in Crittenden, Greene and Mississippi counties. Richardson said the people who go through the program must be convicted of a drug felony with the person going through extensive training and help. One key problem is getting specific numbers on how many people have completed the program statewide, Richardson said.

The drug court meets every Tuesday morning. “I ask them if they have a job or are getting a job,” Richardson said, noting that participants must undergo a drug screen at any time.

Once done with the state funded program, Richardson said the felony conviction is dropped. “They tear the paperwork right up,” Richardson said. If the person does not complete the program, they face the felony charge.

“Like then-Circuit Judge David Laser, who started the program, once said, ‘You have to change your playmates, your playground and your play things,'” she said.

It costs $43 a day to house a person in state prison, while it costs $4.50 a day to go through the drug court program, said Richardson, but there is an unmeasurable cost involving broken homes and families falling apart.

The finance committee was scheduled to hear from officials at the Craighead Nursing Center Monday (March 14) about the operations of the center. No one from the center attended the meeting Monday night. Instead, justices received a letter from Commission Chairman Jay Scholtens.

In the letter, Scholtens said recent press stories have drawn attention to the center in Jonesboro. Scholtens said in the letter that several board members were unavailable to be at the meeting Monday and asked justices to attend the board’s meeting on the 4th Tuesday of each month.

“We do not micro manage the finances of CNC. The Nursing Home is currently involved in litigation regarding issues raised in the paper (question as to whether or not nursing center employees are county employees through the Arkansas Public Employment Retirement System, case is active in Craighead County Circuit Court), so we will not be able to comment on pending issues per counsel’s legal advice,” Scholtens wrote. “I suggest any questions or concerns be brought to my attention before the meeting, so we can have the appropriate person available to answer questions at the meeting.”

Committee chairman Josh Longmire said the statement was not surprising. “I guess it is convenient,” he said.

Justices also received preliminary copies of a request to Attorney General Leslie Rutledge to clarify the roles for the county’s dual county seats. Craighead County has two county seats – Jonesboro and Lake City – with courthouses in both places.

In the county’s eastern district, based in Lake City, there is an eastern district sheriff and a eastern district clerk that handles duties at the Lake City courthouse.

Even though both positions are on the November general election ballot as elected positions, both are considered advisory according to laws passed by the Arkansas Legislature in 1883 and 2003.