U.S. District Judge Keith Starrett for the Southern District of Mississippi, Eastern Division (Hattiesburg) received the 2019 Chief Justice Award, which recognizes individuals whose actions have significantly impacted the law and the people of the State of Mississippi.
Starrett was recognized for his leadership and innovation as founder of the state’s drug court program, for his work to implement criminal justice reforms, and for his continuing efforts to implement reentry programs that reduce recidivism and help former offenders become productive citizens.
Starrett launched the Drug Court movement in Mississippi 20 years ago as a Circuit Court judge with his creation of the state’s first felony adult Drug Court in the 14th Circuit District of Lincoln, Pike and Walthall counties.
The central principle of drug courts is to provide substance abuse treatment and intense supervision rather than incarceration so that people who committed crimes to feed their drug addiction can become drug free and support themselves and their families.
Starrett served on the Board of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals for eight years, and was Board Chair for two years. He was selected for the Goldstein National Drug Court Hall of Fame.
After he was appointed to the federal judiciary, Starrett started one of the first federal reentry courts in the country. He wanted offenders to have drug treatment and learn employment skills and coping skills to avoid lapsing back into drug addiction and criminal behavior when they served out their sentences.
Starrett leads Federal Reentry Courts in the Southern District of Mississippi and serves as Chair of the Reentry Committee for the Fifth Circuit. He has served as chairman of the Mississippi Reentry Council since it began as an ad hoc group in December 2013.
Starrett’s 27-year judicial career began in 1992 when Gov. Kirk Fordice appointed him as Circuit Judge for the 14th Circuit Court District. In 2005, President George W. Bush appointed him to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi. His chambers are in Hattiesburg. On April 30, 2019, he took senior status, a judicial retirement, but continues to carry a caseload.
He was in private law practice before he took the bench. He graduated from Mississippi State University and the University of Mississippi School of Law.
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