Judges announce creation of Accountability Court

| February 8, 2016



VALDOSTA – In an effort to stem the rising tide of incarcerations and the high rate of recidivism for persons with drug abuse problems and those with mental health issues Superior Court Judges of Lowndes County announced a new initiative for the area called  “Accountability Court.”

Judges Richard Cowart and James Tunison presented the project to members of the Board of Commissioners of Lowndes County during their planning session.

While not removing criminal’s responsibility for crimes committed the program offers opportunities for changed lives. The first session of Accountability Court convenes on February 26th in the Lowndes County Courthouse.

The Accountability Court’s philosophy aims to break the cycle of drug abuse and mental health conduct leading to the predictable cycle of arrest, conviction, incarceration, release and re-arrest for the same or similar behavior. The Accountability Court provides a person struggling with addiction or mental health problems an opportunity to change their behavior while being held accountable for their conduct.

The Court operates with an interdisciplinary team from the judiciary, prosecution, defense, probation, law enforcement and treatment provider for drug abuse and mental health disorders. The Lowndes accountability court consists of 7 members from these professions. The team members work with participants to achieve the goal of sobriety and accountability.

According to the court’s operations guide, “The Adult Felony Treatment Court is designed to coordinate substance abuse and mental health intervention with judicial oversight through enhanced supervision and individual accountability.” A participant enters the program by receiving a felony sentence from the court with accountability court conditions of probation.

Each participant remains in the program between 18 to 24 months. The treatment consists of 4 phases from intensive to transition. Participants appear in court every 14 days. The team meets each 14 days. Drug testing occurs many times per week. A participant removed from the accountability court for failing to follow treatment or court rules returns to the criminal justice system.

This Court is unique in the criminal justice environment because it builds an integral and collaborative relationship between criminal justice responses, treatment provider, professionals, and ancillary services. The effort establishes a team of professionals led by a Presiding Judge, focused on breaking the cycle of recidivism with regards to substance abuse and mental health issues. Participants in the court program may be referred for consideration by the Team by any team member, defendant or family member.

To meet the needs of eligible participants, the Accountability Court allows for three separate tracks: Drug Court, Mental Health Court and Veteran’s Court.

The Lowndes County Accountability Court was established through a collaborative effort led by The Honorable Richard M. Cowart and The Honorable James G. Tunison, Jr., and Lowndes County Commissioners Joyce Evans and Clay Griner. Commissioner Evans has been a long-time supporter of efforts related to exploring ways the county could support the courts in order for offenders and their families to realize a better long-term outcome. Funding was obtained by the Court’s request to the Office of the Governor Criminal Justice Coordinating Council. The initial operating budget award is $64,403 with a required Lowndes County match of $7,156, supplied by the County Commission from the county’s contingency funds.

The Lowndes County Accountability Court will convene for its inaugural session on February 26.

For more information, please contact Program Coordinator Jennifer Fabbri, 22-561-0526.

For more information about the accountability courts in Georgia, please see the Council of Accountability Court Judges. http://www.gaaccountabilitycourts.org/

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