Achieving some of goals, DA says

District Attorney Scott Colom, left, talks with Howard Sherman following Thursday's West Point Rotary Club meeting.
Staff Writer

The issues on which he ran for office -- prioritizing violent crime, more focus on drug rehabilitation, and better prepared cases -- are happening, District Attorney Scott Colom said Thursday.

"The goal is a better overall justice system," Colom, who has been in office 29 months covering Clay, Oktibbeha, Lowndes and Noxubee counties, told the West Point Rotary Club.

Making violent crimes a priority has helped get the worst cases to court faster, reducing the amount of time victims have to linger over the crime.

"Violent crimes are the worst thing that can happen to people. By making those cases a priority, the victims can start their recovery process faster ... they don't lose faith in the justice system because something drags on two or three or four years," Colom said, citing a rape in Starkville's Cotton District that occurred shortly after he took office. The two suspects were convicted in about a year after their arrest.

In addition, Colom and his staff are involved in the investigations of violent crimes when they happen. Likewise, his staff reviews cases before they are presented to a Grand Jury. The goal is to improve investigations and streamline the process.

"By looking at the cases before they are presented to the Grand Jury, we see if there are any holes. We can weed out cases that really might not need to be before a Grand Jury or in circuit court.

"Bad cases just clog up the docket and we already have enough as it is," he said.
And by working with investigators when violent crimes happen, cases end up being stronger.

"We get to the point where we have more than just an arrest, we have enough to get a solid conviction. Everyone deserves the best investigation possible. We are proud of that," continued Colom, who won the 16th District Circuit seat in 2015 by unseating long-time incumbent Forrest Allgood.

Better investigations and preparation is critical to reducing delays.

"We usually only have two judges on the bench during any given week of a court term. At most usually, you can try two cases at a time. So when you look at the schedule, you really could have only say 16 trials a year in Oktibbeha County, even less than that in Clay. The better prepared we are, the better we can settle cases in the interest of justice or go to trial. Fewer cases sit on the docket for long periods of time. That's the goal," he explained.

While violent crimes often get much of the public attention, drug cases make up the biggest portion of caseloads. And when he took office, he charged the approach, relying more on pretrial diversion and other alternative sentencing programs for non-violent offenders.

"They get a social worker rather than a probation officer. The idea is to reduce the human mistakes of people using drugs. Sending many of these people to prison is counterproductive because they come out of prison worse off than they went in. Our corrections system is not really structured for rehabilitation," he described.

Treating addiction and helping users turn their lives around is part of a broader attack on the drug problem, he noted. Reducing the demand impacts supply.

His office uses funds from fees and fines to help users get treatment. State legislators also have authorized Medicaid to help pay for treatment, 

"It's basic capitalism. You have to deal with demand as well as supply. It's a long process, one small step at a time," he added, describing the carrot and stick approach pretrial diversion uses to reward those who complete the program.

"I am as proud of that as I am the rape conviction," he said of the expanded use of treatment options.