Accountability Court set up to help instead of punish

RAY LIGHTNER/DAILY NEWS Senior Judge Sid Esary spoke with the Educational Prosperity Initiative to get the word out about the Accountability Court.

Spalding County has an accountability court to help veterans and those with drug, alcohol and mental illness issues get treatment and stay out of jail.

“We take individuals charged with a crime, and pull them out of judicial system and put them under our umbrella,” Judge Sid Esary said.

It is a voluntary 16-month program, he said, where participants have to agree to treatment, counseling, drug testing and if they complete the program the charges are dropped.

Esary, a former State Court judge, said, “for 10 years, my job was to determine if someone did or did not do it, assess a fine or punishment. What was being accomplished? Not a dag-gum thing. We’ve taken away their money and ability to get a job.”

When they serve the sentence, he said, “they were no better off.” The purpose of the accountability court, Esary said, “is to try to help them instead of punish them. Punishment only goes so far.”

He explained the accountability court is a new movement in the justice system, where they are pulled out of the system and suspend the sentence, while treating the underlying problems of drug and alcohol abuse/addiction and mental health problems.

“We bring them out of the system and put them through a rigorous treatment program, with twice weekly drug tests, counseling sessions, over 16 months,” Esary said.

In that process, Esary said, “we hope they learned to deal with problems and they are given tools to deal with them.”

The Spalding County Accountability Court started two years ago, right after Esary retired as State Court judge.

“I was appointed by Judge Josh Thacker, who succeeded me, as a judge pro tem (temporary), and was appointed a senior judge by the governor,” Esary said.

In that time, there have been nine graduates, he said, with15 currently in the program and another five or six coming in.

“The whole idea of the accountability court is just that, to hold them accountable. It is an alternative to punishment,” Esary said.

“We try to catch them before they are convicted, so they don’t have a conviction on their record when they get out,” he said. “If they complete the program, we dismiss the case against them.”

Esary said the program “ain’t a walk in the park. It ain’t easy.”

He said it is voluntary, and some do not want to do it because they have to give up drugs and alcohol.

“They’d rather pay the fine or go to jail,” Esary said.

“We have folks with severe problems, and the problem is not just because they are weak,” Esary said. “There was poor upbringing, self-medicating with drugs and alcohol. Once that monkey is on your back, it is hard to get rid of.”

The objective, he said, “is to treat the underlying problems, so they don’t get in trouble again. It is funded by a grant from the state and some local funds for office space, but because of the funding, it is limited to those charged with a crime.”

Esary works with the Spalding County State Court, Griffin Municipal Court and Spalding County Superior Court, and gets referrals from those courts.

“We do a background check, and ask the prosecutor to them under our program,” he said. “They will dead docket the case, not prosecute, as long as they complete the program.”

He said, “we have had to remove four or five, out of some 30 we’ve dealt with. Eighty percent actually succeed, graduate from the program (and it) is actually outstanding.”

Esary spoke to the Educational Prosperity Initiative, to help get the word out.

“We’ve gotten the word out to the lawyers,” he said. “Our program doesn’t cost a dime, there’s no fees at all for first class treatment. I thought they’d be knocking the door down.”

They have such a success rate, Esary said, “because people have bought in. If you are our program you can get a temporary license, so you can drive to the program, and keep a job. There’s no cost, first class treatment, and hopefully you get well.”

The treatment includes counselors and psychiatric care from McIntosh Trail. They work with Waypoint Veterans Resource Center to get help for the veterans, and work with Veterans Affairs, local prosecutors and law enforcement.

Only persons with mental health issues who have committed offenses or veterans who have become involved with the criminal justice system are eligible. No one with a current or prior sales, distribution or intent charge will be considered, nor will anyone with a residential burglary, sex crime or violent offense. Other disqualifiers may include number of prior arrests and convictions, but requirements are evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

For more information or an application, contact Accountability Court Coordinator Leslie Heffron at 770-467-8824 or for an application.

Mar 08

Law enforcement officials discuss crime, prevention

Griffin Police Chief Mike Yates and Spalding County Sheriff Darrell Dix both spoke Wednesday at the Spalding Collaborative meeting.

Each addressed changes in local crime rates and programs aimed at stopping crime before it begins.

One point that they agreed strongly on was that children are exposed to crime at an early age.

Yates said that children are, “indoctrinated into criminal behavior between 3 and 6 years old. The average citizen doesn’t realize that. They think it starts in high school.”

Dix said it was not unusual to see young children on the playground flashing gang signs or pretending to “smoke a blunt.” He said that at that age, they do not yet understand what they are doing, but they are “emulating exposure” to crime and gang activity they have seen at home.

Each department has implemented a variety of programs targeted at local youth.

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The police department recently installed Buddy Benches at local schools, Anne Street Elementary and Atkinson Elementary, and plan to have three more placed at other local schools soon.

Yates said that the benches provide a place for officers to meet with students who are identified by the school as a child who needs additional support. He said that officers will chat with these students, perhaps have lunch or breakfast with them.

Dix discussed the Junior Deputy Program which has been in place for 50 years. Each year, they take a group of sixth graders to Washington D.C. to tour the nation’s landmarks and monuments.

He said some local students will never leave the county or even the city limits, so this is an opportunity to show them more.

“It gives you hope and warms your heart to see them realize they can be anything they want,” he said.

Another program begun by the police department, Project Halo, is aimed at reducing crime through use of cameras.

Yates said that they are partnering with Georgia Power to install two cameras to be paid for by the city. One will be on Experiment Street and the other at Solomon and Hill streets.

He emphasized that the cameras will not be routinely monitored but the footage will be available for review should an incident be reported in the area.

He also said they hope to create a network of privately-owned cameras, again, not to be constantly monitored, but to be reviewed by law enforcement if a crime takes place.

He said he hopes that crime will be reduced by installing signs in the areas with cameras.

Dix said it is important to him that his department is a part of the community.

“We really love being in the community,” he said.

He said that it is not law enforcement’s job to tell a community where their problems are. It is law enforcement’s job to listen to the community and address what is important to them.

They have created a program with the working title of “firehouse chats” which will begin in April. The sheriff and members of his department plan to meet informally at local area fire departments to discuss issues of concern to residents.

Both said that crime is down in the local area.

They addressed an internet rumor that Griffin and Spalding County are supposedly in the top 10 for crime in Georgia and said that that information is inaccurate and was created by an alarm company as a means to market a product.

Yates said the reality is that there is a nearly 40 percent reduction in violent crime. This includes murder, robbery and motor vehicle theft among others.

Dix, who said he grew up in the area, closed by saying, “We have a lot to be proud of. I see it changing. I see it turning the corner.”

Feb 14
By Jennifer Reynolds


Feb 15
Matt Murray, right, from the Exchange Club presents a check to Regina Abbott, left, and Brett Bell, center, for the Spalding Collaborative from proceeds collected from last year’s Doc Holliday Festival. The presentation took place at the Wednesday meeting of Spalding Collaborative. “It’s an honor for the Exchange Club to be a part of this and we’re going to continue to support the Collaborative going forward,” said Murray

Two ribbon-cuttings conducted at The Park at The Oaks

Two ribbon-cuttings conducted at The Park at The Oaks

There were two ribbon-cuttings at The Park at The Oaks on Wednesday.

There was one for the park itself and one for the Little Free Library located there. The Park at The Oaks was a partnership betweeen the Griffin Housing Authority and The Salvation Army of Griffin and Spalding County, and was a project for Leadership Griffin+Spalding, a program of the Griffin-Spalding Chamber of Commerce.

Located between The Salvation Army Center on Meriwether Street and the Housing Authority’s Oaks at Park Point and Iris at Park Point, and backing up to the Griffin Police Department headquarters, the park includes a walking track and senior exercise stations, and is open to the entire community, not just the residents of the Oaks or Iris.

Salvation Army Lt. Tim Blevins praised “the leadership, collaboration and partnership to bring this to pass.”

Blevins said the project was being thought about when he and his wife were assigned to Griffin, which will be three years in June.

“I am a firm beliver in walking for exercise,” he said. “I try to do two miles a day, five days a week. This track is perfect for this community.”

Blevins was reminded of Timothy 4:8 — “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come,” saying it was something his

father used to justify his sedentary lifestyle. “But our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit,” Blevins said, and “we need to keep it in the best condition possible.”

County Manager William P. Wilson Jr., as well as Blevins and Griffin Housing Authority Chief Executive Officer Bob Dull, said this project is just one of the things to come from the partnership.

“This is what happens when you build collaboration,” Dull said.

The Park at the Oakshome is also the  of the 28th Little Free Library in Spalding County. Spalding Collaborative Chairman Brett Bell said he was “very, very happy to be a citizen of Griffin,” noting that the Little Free Library effort has brought together people in the community who may not have otherwise come together.

Bell said Spalding County may have the highest concentration of Little Free Libraries in the state of Georgia. There are more than 80,000 worldwide in 90-plus countries, he said.

Bell also thanked Larry Tinsley for painting the box, which has been waiting for a home for about four months.

“You did an amazing job on this box. We want to let you know you’ll be working for us,” he said.


Spalding County scores an ‘F’ in preterm birth rate

Spalding County falls short on preterm birth rates and scores even lower on infant mortality rates according to studies and findings presented at a recent Educational Prosperity Initiative (EPI) meeting.

According to March of Dimes, preterm birth is a live birth before 37 completed weeks of gestation.

Infants that are preterm, sometimes also called premature, have a lower rate of survival than full term infants. Those that do survive often have health complications, some of them long term.

Georgia currently has a preterm birth rate of 11.4 percent and scores a “D” on March of Dimes’ 2018 Premature Birth Report Card. To score an “A,” a state must have a preterm birth rate less than or equal to 8.1 percent.

The preterm birth rate in Spalding County for 2014 — the most recent rate found — was 16.6 percent which gives it an “F” on the March of Dimes report card. Preterm births affect all races, but in Spalding County, it affects black mothers more than other races at 20.7 percent.

According to Carl Henry, of Southside Medical Center, who presented findings on preterm birth at the December meeting of EPI, Spalding and Butts counties had an infant mortality rate that is triple the national average.

“Several counties have a much higher infant mortality rate. Among all races and ethnicities, two counties had rates more than triple those nationally, Spalding at 18.6 percent and Butts at 20.3,” said Henry citing studies for 2014 and 2015.

According to Henry, there are several things mothers can do to decrease the likelihood of preterm birth. They should get prenatal checkups, tell their provider about all their prescriptions, take prenatal vitamins, eat well and get appropriate, prenatal exercise as planned with their doctor.

He said they should also avoid alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs.

According to local officials, one trend in preterm births in Spalding County, is mothers who hide their pregnancy. They attribute this to very young mothers and mothers who have become pregnant as a result of rape.

“What we have found is that a lot of people aren’t going for treatment or they’re going for treatment late and also showing up at the emergency room when it’s time to deliver,” Henry said. “So they’ve had no prenatal treatment at all.”

Another issue is a lack of affordable health care or a perception by the mother that there is not affordable care available to her.

However, Henry said that once a pregnancy is confirmed, a mother can apply for Pregnancy Medicaid and he suggested visiting the Health Department for a pregnancy test.

The Spalding County Health Department at 1007 Memorial Drive, offers appointments for pregnancy tests. If a mother is pregnant, workers at the Health Department will help get her on Medicaid the same day.

They also help connect mothers with prenatal care providers and services such as WIC which stands for Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children. WIC helps provide nutrition to low-income women and children.

Feb 12
By Jennifer Reynolds

Southern Crescent Technical College is offering adult education classes at Fairmont Community Center.


Dr. Murray Williams, Vice President of Adult Education at SCTC, spoke to the Educational Prosperity Initiative meeting held on Feb. 7 to announce the program.

“We are very excited today about our new partnership at Fairmont Community Center,” she said. “We opened our doors here for an adult education program just last week.”

She said the program already has 14 “very eager” students enrolled and attending.

“This has been a long time coming. We have been at Fairmont before, and we had to end the program,” she said.

She went on to say that the ending of the previous effort was a disappointment to both SCTC and Fairmont Community Center.

“Over the last couple of years, we have worked collectively together, to get the program back on board, and we’ve seen nothing but great things happening,” she said.

She said that it is the aim of SCTC’s Adult Education Program to build strong communities. They have found that lack of transportation is often a barrier to students, so they are taking their classes to the community.

“If they won’t come to us, then let’s go to them, and let’s start bringing adult education to the community,” she said.

According to Williams, about 23 percent of adults 18 years and older in the local community do not have a high school diploma or a GED. She added that for about 60 percent of new jobs, a high school diploma and some sort of college credential will be required.

“For us, that is just unacceptable,” she said. “We want to wipe that number out because we want people to be able to go into the workforce.”

She said that SCTC offers dual enrollment to allow GED students to also take college credit classes at the same time.

“So when they get the GED, they can also get a college credential and go directly into the workforce,” she said.

“This is a great day for Southern Crescent. This is a great day for Fairmont. This is a great day for Spalding County and we thank you for this partnership and collaboration that we have,” she said in closing.

Feb 09 By Jennifer Reynolds STAFF WRITER

Local charity begins new ministry

Rushton’s Hope is a local faith-based organization that runs numerous programs to tend to the needs of the community.

Rushton’s Hope recently launched Hope for Family Life — a branch of its ministry aimed at supporting mothers. Until recently, the program operated only on Wednesdays, but will begin operating on Fridays as well beginning Feb. 1.

Pastor Ron Cook — who founded Rushton’s Hope along with his wife Wanda in 2007 — said Hope for Family Life is filling a need in the community that was left vacant with the closing of Caring House about three years ago.

He said that Hope for Family Life aims to support mothers from conception through child rearing by offering classes on a variety of topics such as Pregnancy Development, Preparing for Birth, Bringing Home Baby, Newborn and Baby Care,

see charity/page A2

Toddler Life and Middle School and Teenagers.

They also offer an “Earn While You Learn” program where mothers can acquire baby supplies such as diapers, formula and other essentials.

Currently, they meet in The Flint Center at 814 Experiment Street, but Cook hopes that in future they can find a home or more private setting for mothers to meet in.

He said that they have a need for volunteers and for funding. With more volunteers, they hope to be able to offer a night class for mothers who work during the day.

They have also launched a Baby Boomerang Bottle program where they distribute baby bottles to be filled with change or bills and returned to Rushton’s Hope to support the program.

Cook said some of the other programs under the Rushton’s Hope umbrella — such as Philemon’s Hope, their jail ministry — need volunteers as well. He said in the past, this ministry thrived but a decrease in involvement has caused it to taper off.

Two other programs that are new to Rushton’s Hope are Hope for Health which helps people with emergency medical expenses and Hope for Housing which Cook said is aimed at helping people find safe and affordable housing — particularly those that do not qualify for other local housing assistance programs.

“We have a desire to see people housed no matter what their situation is,” Cook said.

He said that in all their programs, they aim to help people find a plan to their independence.

If you are interested in volunteering with Hope for Family Life, call Wanda Cook at 770-468-6600.

Jan 29
By Jennifer Reynolds

Safe Kids Spalding Coalition launches

Unintentional injury is the leading cause of death in children aged from birth to 19, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

A new coalition in Spalding County aims to help reduce the number of children who die as a result of unintentional injuries such as falls, fires and drowning.

Safe Kids Spalding was launched Thursday, Jan. 24 under the direction of Kim Stephens, Community Education and Outreach for WellStar Spalding Regional Hospital.

Stephens announced, “We are officially Safe Kids Spalding,” as she addressed those gathered at WellStar Spalding Regional Hospital.

The event brought together a number of local agencies, including emergency services such as fire and police protection, Spalding Collaborative and even local civic groups such as Kiwanis to mark the launch of the new organization.

According to information given during the presentation,

see safe/page A2

the most common causes of unintentional injury to children in Spalding County from greatest to least are falls, motor vehicle collisions (MVC), poisoning, shooting, fire/smoke and suffocation.

The coalition hopes to begin reducing the numbers of deaths from these causes through community education.

Now that Safe Kids Spalding is officially launched, Stephens said the organization will begin building the coalition committee. Once the committee is built, Safe Kids Spalding will plan community events and secure funding resources to help make the organization sustainable.

Safe Kids Worldwide is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to prevent childhood injuries. They work in over 30 countries and with a network of more than 400 coalitions in the United States including Safe Kids Georgia.

Safe Kids Spalding, a part of Safe Kids Georgia, is the 30th coalition to form in the state.

If you are interested in participating in Safe Kids Spalding, email Kim Stephens at

Jan 29
By Jennifer Reynolds

Waypoint getting help with a women’s shelter

Waypoint Griffin is working with a number of local organizations to get its women shelter open.

The Phoenix House — a shelter for homeless female veterans — will be in the former men’s shelter at East Griffin Baptist Church. Don Taylor from Waypoint said the church offered the house to Waypoint, and he’s been working to get it fixed up.

The church has already put a new roof on it before offering it to Taylor. He’s asked a local contractor, who’d worked on Taylor’s own home, to do similar work on the floors at Phoenix House.

After the floor repairs, Taylor has arranged for a $17,000 grant and a volunteer work crew from Home Depot to do interior renovations and replace kitchen cabinets and applicances. Once that is done, he’s working with the Sun City Garden Club to help decorate inside and out.

The club will be working on getting donations and providing community service. Some of the club’s effort may be part of the annual Christmas in July fundraiser

see shelter/page A2

held in Sun City. Club members will work with Waypoint’s Sandra Brownlee to determine the needs as the shelter gets closer to opening.

Brownlee said there are three women already on the waiting list for the shelter which will have room for five women. She is interviewing others as well.

Taylor hopes this will be an example for other property owners of what can be done, as there’s a need for more shelters.

For more information on Waypoint Griffin, call 770-415-0859 or stop by the veterans center at 232 East Broad St., Griffin.

Devlin enjoys being involved in mentoring program


John Devlin saw a story in the paper six years ago about a new mentorship program in Spalding County.

“It sounded so simple,” Devlin said.

The Griffin-Spalding County Mentor Program had just launched and they were looking for volunteers to mentor in the local schools. Volunteers would commit to meet with a student for one hour a week for one school year.

Devlin said he told his wife at the time, “I could do that left-handed. I’ve got plenty of time.”

Devlin, who was and still is a bus driver, said he knew exactly the student he wanted to mentor. He added that the program doesn’t normally

allow mentors to select students, but this was a special case.

The student Devlin wished to mentor was a rider on his bus and Devlin said that they didn’t get along. He said the kid was a misfit and he asked the program if he could mentor this student.

Devlin mentored the student for four years, beginning when the student was in sixth grade and staying with him through the student’s freshman year in high school.

“It made me feel so good,” Devlin said. “He would invite me to come watch his class performances.”

Devlin invited the student and the student’s family to his home for a cookout, and he even took him to a few Braves games.

Devlin’s own father died when he was 2-years old and he said that neighbors were his role models. One neighbor would take him fishing and another took him to baseball games. Now, he treats the students he mentors to similar outings.

After the student completed his freshman year, Devlin said there was less time for mentoring, but the student and Devlin stay in touch through social media.

But that wasn’t the end of Devlin’s work as a mentor. He soon took on another student.

As he did with his first mentee, Devlin finds ways to enrich this student’s life. Devlin is teaching the mentee and his younger sister to play golf. He takes them to play at least once a week in the summer.

He said his mentee, “can outdrive me almost every time” and that his sister can outdrive him on occasion.

He said the kids’ successes are rewarding to him.

“It’s just like I won the World Series. I’m just so happy,” he said.

He added, “doing things with those kids makes me feel so — I have a decent vocabulary, but it’s hard to find the word I want. I’ve got a lot more energy. It’s the same on the bus.”, Griffin Daily News Staff Writer. Jan.19,2019