The juvenile drug court program — an alternative sentencing program that helps kids who abuse drugs address their addictions and behavior problems through classes rather than incarceration — currently has 18 participants and will accept two new students in July, officials said.
The juvenile program’s counterpart for adults whose drug problems have affected their families accepts new participants on a weekly basis.
But when Judge Brenda Stedham announced in April her decision to oversee all of those cases and the two drug court programs, some court officials — including Judge Laura Phillips, who originally started the alternative sentencing programs six years ago — said the sudden change in leadership would cause the drug courts to lose their funding and fail.
Following her decision, Calhoun County District Attorney Brian McVeigh temporarily discontinued prosecutorial referrals of the juveniles to drug court and adults to family drug court.
McVeigh declined to comment Thursday on whether he’d begun those referrals again, but court officials said the drug court programs were running smoothly since Stedham’s decision.
“Yes, adults and children are continually being referred into the programs. We have not had any problems with cases coming into either one of those courts; everything has continued to operate just as it should,” Stedham said.
Calhoun County presiding Judge Malcolm Street and Phillips agreed that both drug court programs were still running as they had before Stedham’s decision.
For her part, Phillips noted that Stedham turned the family court program back over to her about three weeks ago.
“I’m very excited about having family drug court back, and it’s great,” Phillips said.
Stedham said she gave Phillips supervision of the family drug court so she could devote most of her own time to the juvenile delinquency cases and the juvenile drug court program, which currently has 18 participants.
“It’s working very well, I think, with each judge being able to devote full time to one of the drug courts,” Chief Juvenile Probation Officer Randy Reaves said. “It’s beneficial for both of them.”
Phillips, the district judge for family court, declined to comment on Stedham’s new role as juvenile drug court supervisor or the fact that the program has continued to operate and accept new participants.
“We had a model program with the juvenile drug court,” Phillips said.
Phillips on Thursday declined to comment on whether she thought juvenile drug court would keep its funding come October, when a $40,000 grant from the Alabama Administrative Office of Courts is up for renewal.
Officials with Administrative Office of Courts said they couldn’t specify which juvenile drug court programs would receive funding because the state budget had yet to be approved by the Legislature, but Stedham said she’s heard of no issues with the funding for either drug court program.
“I don’t know that there will be any change in funding,” Stedham said. “We’ve not had any problems with the funding since I took over, since I took this action.”
Still unclear is why exactly Stedham took that action to shuffle all juvenile cases and take over the drug courts.
When she first announced the controversial and sudden move, Stedham said it was to ensure that “each juvenile’s civil rights will be fully protected.”
The judge has repeatedly declined to comment on whether her decision was related to a Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office program that allowed suspended-from-school students and juvenile offenders to spend time at the county jail, wearing inmate jumpsuits and performing menial tasks at the requests of corrections officers.
That program is tied to a video published at the end of March that shows Sheriff Larry Amerson using manual force on a shackled and handcuffed boy who participated in that program.
Stedham said Thursday she was pleased with the way the juvenile cases and drug courts have been managed since she made the supervision changes.
“All I ever wanted to do was to make a difference in the lives of the people I’ve come in contact with,” she said.
Phillips declined to comment about the current status of the juvenile drug court but said she’s been working tirelessly with family drug court participants since Stedham reassigned the sentencing alternative program back to her.
“The family drug court is still working wonderfully,” she said.
Star staff writer Cameron Steele: 256-235-3562.