New recovery court places treatment over punishment

Published 5:50 pm Wednesday, November 13, 2019

The local court system will soon have a new tool to help break the cycle of drug abuse and addiction. By the end of January, judicial officials hope to have all the pieces in place to start up the new District 2 Recovery Court, which will focus on helping defendants with substance abuse problems find the treatment they need.

“Courts around the nation have determined that when you have a substance use disorder, providing treatment is the most effective way of getting clean and sober people, versus putting them in jail,” said Chief District Court Judge Regina Parker. “They’ll go there for a minute, come out and go right back to using. So it’s just a revolving door of committing crimes and things of that nature.”

The new recovery court will serve the entire 2nd Judicial District, which includes Beaufort, Martin, Washington, Hyde and Tyrrell counties. While one court will be based in Beaufort County, also serving Martin County, a second in Washington County will serve both Hyde and Tyrrell counties.

“We will work with them understanding that it is a substance use disorder,” Parker said. “We’ll continue to work with them to hopefully, in the end, produce productive citizens that are sober and clean.”

On average, recovery court will serve up to 30 participants at a time. Once pleading guilty in court, participants will be referred to recovery court, where they will undergo an intensive regimen of treatment and counseling. This also includes home visits, curfews, drug testing and regular meetings with a probation officer.

“This Recovery Treatment Court is aimed at high-risk, high-need offenders. The risk relates to chances of reoffending, and need relates to those with moderate to severe substance use disorders,” District Attorney Seth Edwards explained in an email. “Most offenders in our court system are either high risk or high need, but not both. Traditionally, our court system is simply not equipped to deal with high-risk, high-need offenders, who ultimately end up in prison as the only way to prevent them from committing more crimes and abusing illegal drugs.”

The effort to create a recovery court for the district dates back to April of last year, arising from conversations between local judges, Edwards, public health officials, treatment providers, defense attorneys and probation officers.

While the willingness to create the program is there, the state court system does not provide funding for drug treatment courts. For the first four years, funding for the new program will come through a $400,000 grant from the U.S. Bureau of Justice, along with financial support from each of the five counties served by the program.

“County commissioners in all five counties gave money towards the program as well, so that’s huge,” Parker said.

Kirstin Beasley, a public health educator with Martin Tyrrell Washington District Health, took the lead on submitting the grant application. Approaching the issue from a public health perspective, Beasley hopes the court will be able to help stem the troubling trends of opioid abuse and overdoses.

“Right now, especially in Beaufort County, our rate is higher than the state for outpatient opioid pills prescribed per resident,” Beasley said. “Our overdose rates are also higher than the state average. Compared to the state, we’re not doing so well, so it’s time for a program like this. We need something new and innovative.”

Edwards, meanwhile, says the program has potential to make communities safer as a whole, all while helping improve lives.

“As the District Attorney, I am approaching this endeavor from the public safety perspective,” Edwards wrote. “That is, assisting a person who has been in and out of jail and on drugs to the path of recovery will reduce crime, increase public safety, and return these individuals to their families as productive members of our community.”