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Chief Justice Cobb makes stop in Pike County

Sue Bell Cobb, Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, was the featured speaker at the Troy Exchange Club Thursday.

Cobb expressed her determination and her commitment to keep “folks safe” through juvenile justice reform.

She was emphatic that drug courts and community punishment programs are the answer to drug addicted criminals and overcrowded prisons.

But at this time, that’s not the answer in Pike County.

Drug courts are operating in all but four of the state’s 67 counties. Pike County is one of the four.

There are 59 active drug courts in Alabama, covering 55 counties. Drug courts are in the planning stages in eight counties. Pike, Coffee, Henry and Houston are lagging behind.

“Our prisons are overcrowded, under funded and we have no money to build more prisons,” Cobb said. “Drug court is the single best way of rehabilitating addicts and keeping them out of jail. Community punishment will work. It will turn lives around and save tax dollars.”

The state’s first female chief justice said drug courts keep nonviolent addicts out of jail by placing them into community corrections programs that include counseling, community service, random drug testing and intensive monitoring.

“We must stop locking up low-risk, non-violent addicts that have made us mad,” she said.

“We must lock up those criminals that we are afraid of. By locking up these low-risk offenders we are making them repeat offenders. Drug court is the number one way of rehabilitating addicts and keeping them out of jail.”

Drug courts require that non-violent offenders appear before the judge once a week for several months, that they are assigned a case manager, that they attend help organizations such as AA and that they are drug tested 10 to 12 times a month. They are also required to pay court costs, for drug testing and other associated costs and to get their GEDs.

“Locking up is not the answer,” Cobb said. “Of the 26,500 people in our prisons, less than 20 percent of them are violent offenders.

“When we put non-violent offenders in prison and they come out and repeat offenders, we have thrown our money away.

“Drug courts work. They change the conversations. Let’s build people. Then we won’t have to build more prisons.”