Mississippi State Veterans Affairs Board Executive Director Stacey E. Pickering has been appointed to the State Intervention Courts Advisory Committee.
The Supreme Court made the appointment in an order filed on May 7, 2020. Chief Justice Mike Randolph, who signed the appointment order, said Pickering will become part of the decision making process for developing veterans intervention courts and mental health treatment courts as well as expanding drug courts.
Chief Justice Randolph is working to expand intervention courts. He hopes to add eight veterans court pilot programs, establish eight mental health court pilot programs, and create three more drug courts if the 2020 Legislature approves the funding.
Pickering said, “One of my goals is to see us grow our veterans courts…I have seen the effectiveness of these programs in other cities and states around the country. Any program that has a single-digit recidivism rate is something Mississippi ought to embrace. We’ve seen numbers in other states as low as 3 percent.”
Pickering said that military veterans make up 7 percent of the male prison population in Mississippi. Intervention courts can give veterans a second chance and direct them to resources available through the Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA health system can provide counseling and other services. “There are different tools and resources available to veterans that aren’t available to the civilian community. Part of our job is to help them plug into VA resources..”
Post-traumatic stress disorder and lack of employment are among the problems often associated with veterans who land in jail. “PTSD is real, especially for those who experienced combat,” Pickering said. Also, “for a lot of our veterans, when they leave active duty, their standard of living goes down. Especially in a poor state like Mississippi, they may not be able to transition their skills into civilian jobs.”
“When our (VA) resources and judicial resources come together, we can help these veterans to relaunch their lives and not have to go through incarceration,” Pickering said. “It’s better for veterans and their families and they continue to be productive members of society.”
It also saves tax dollars, Pickering and Randolph said.
Randolph said that it is expected that the savings to the State of Mississippi in Fiscal Year 2021 will exceed $71.7 million with the addition of the proposed new intervention courts.
The state currently has 42 intervention courts. There are 22 adult felony drug court programs – one in each of the 22 Circuit Court districts. Special programs for veterans currently operate in two of them: the 12th Circuit and 19th Circuit. There are four adult misdemeanor drug court programs, 13 juvenile drug courts, and three family drug courts.
The 2019 Legislature, as part of the Criminal Justice Reform Act, called for additional intervention courts to include veterans and mental health courts.
Pickering said, “You can’t address prison reform if you don’t address intervention courts like veterans courts and mental health courts to address what got them in trouble in the first place.”
The Legislature created Advisory Committee to develop and periodically update proposed statewide evaluation plans and models for monitoring all critical aspects of drug courts. The Advisory Committee makes recommendations for improvements to drug intervention court policies and guidelines for intervention court operations and sets funding formulas for intervention courts. Other members of the Advisory Committee are Justice Robert P. Chamberlin, chairman; 3rd Circuit Judge Andrew Howorth; 7th Circuit Judge Winston Kidd; 11th Circuit Judge Charles Webster; 12th Circuit Judge Robert Helfrich; 14th Circuit Judge Mike Taylor; Jackson County Court Judge Sharon Sigalas; Rep. Angela Cockerham; Christy Gutherz, Mississippi Department of Corrections Deputy Commissioner of Community Corrections; and Melody Madaris, Director of Substance Abuse and EAP Services at Communicare, Region II.