From Asheboro Courier-Tribune
ASHEBORO — During a trip to Randolph County Tuesday, North Carolina Chief Justice Cheri Beasley visited with court officials and spoke to students and community members about the court system.
Her visit comes prior to travel court sessions being held in Randolph, Rowan and Forsyth counties by the NC Supreme Court as a part of the court commemorating its 200th anniversary.
On Oct. 1, RCC will live stream the Supreme Court in session from 9:30 a.m.-noon from the old Randolph County Courthouse in the JB & Claire Davis Corporate Training Center, located in the Continuing Education and Industrial Center on the Asheboro Campus. The Supreme Court will hear two cases with a 30-minute break in between.
A couple of weeks prior, on Sept. 17, Senior Associate Justice Paul Newby, a Randolph County native, will visit Randolph Community College for Constitution Day in the R. Alton Cox Learning Resources Center auditorium.
“The legislature has given us permission to travel across the state and we’re really excited about the fact that Randolph County is one of the very few places that we’ll travel,” Beasley said in an interview with The Courier-Tribune.
Beasley’s day in Randolph began with a visit to RCC, where she provided students, faculty and other attendees with details regarding her plans for the state’s judicial branch. Audience members also had the opportunity to address Beasley with questions of their own.
Local District Court Judge Brooke Schmidly introduced Beasley to the crowd, noting that Beasley “made history this year when she was selected as the Chief Justice, as she is the first African American woman to lead the Supreme Court of North Carolina.”
Among the topics covered were the school justice partnership and the reconvening of the state judicial council, each of which deal with collaboration on a major level.
“We have school justice partnerships across the state of North Carolina,” Beasley said. “Last year, 11,000 young people were referred from the school system to the juvenile justice system.”
The partnership focuses largely on keeping young people in schools.
In an interview, Beasley noted that the partnership consists of collaboration between educators, law enforcement, district attorneys, public health officials, county commissioners and sheriff’s departments.
“What we found in New Hanover County, which was the first school justice partnership, is that the referrals from the school system to the juvenile justice system decreased by 61%.”
One of the biggest factors involved in the decrease in juvenile crime has been law enforcement, Beasley explained. Increased opportunities for law enforcement to be mentors and role models for students has been impactful, she said.
The state judicial council disbanded in years past, but is returning in November.
The council consists of judges, district attorneys, clerk of courts, magistrates and more. According to Beasley, it’s a whole host of folks who come together to represent and think about ways to improve work done within the court system.
Beasley also addressed the relationship between the courts and the opioid crisis.
“One of the things we’re trying to do is make sure we have what we call recovery courts, where if someone is charged with a substance abuse offense, like possession of some kind of a drug, that they be allowed to go through the recovery where they will be held accountable for that offense, but also seek treatment. That court would help to monitor that treatment.”
Currently, there are around 23 recovery courts in the state, and while they used to be funded on a state level, they are now all locally funded.
“So if you had a drug court here in Randolph County, it would be funded locally, and we need to change that,” Beasley said. “We need to make sure there is funding whether you live in Randolph or Wake county.”
Following her talk at RCC, Beasley traveled to the Randolph County Courthouse to visit with local judicial officials and staff.
She spoke with District Attorney Andy Gregson about recovery court in Randolph.
“As I was speaking to D.A. Gregson here, he talked about the fact that there was a drug court here years ago, but that they are most successful when there are long-term drug treatment programs in the area.”
She noted that Gregson mentioned there might be some efforts with the local hospital to get a long-term drug treatment program here, as most of the treatment options in Randolph County tend to be more short term.
“It sounds like D.A. Gregson and your judges are working collaboratively when they’re able to identify someone who has, let’s say, an addiction to opioids,” Beasley said. “If the person who is the abuser is willing to go to a long-term treatment program and be successful in that, it sounds like the district attorney is willing to work with those folks.”
Beasley also addressed the potential of bond reform in North Carolina.
“We have a study going now around what bond and bail conditions really ought to look like, practically speaking,” she said. “We’re beginning to look at some of the smaller counties in the western part of the state and really thinking about making sure that the bond is set commensurate with the offense.”
They’re also taking into consideration the ability for a person to pay fines or fees. In cases such as child support payment, more money can be spent incarcerating a person than the money owed.
After her visit to the courthouse, Beasley joined faith leaders and elected officials at First United Methodist Church for a Faith and Justice Roundtable, which she calls another collaborative effort.
“The beautiful thing about these is that the communities really get the chance to come together and determine the issues of importance,” Beasley said. “I think it’s been really fruitful for faith communities along with law enforcement and judges and district attorneys and other community folks and educators to come together and think about what’s important in their communities and come up with solutions to better their communities.”