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Treatment courts in the Cape Fear: Researchers unveil map, New Hanover County rolls out new program

Drug courts are an alternative to jail sentencing, to get people into treatment so they can rejoin society and care for their families
Updated: Jun. 14, 2021 at 5:50 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - After nine months of data collection work, the National Drug Court Resource Center unveiled its newest resource: an interactive map.

The group is funded by the Department Of Justice and is housed at University of North Carolina Wilmington and serves as a resource for drug courts, policy makers and judicial leaders around the country.

Drug courts have been around for decades, as an alternative to jail sentencing, to get people into treatment so they can rejoin society and care for their families.

The interactive map lays out where recovery courts for drug use, DWIs, and mental health are located, and combines that with data from the Center for Disease Control, the Census and the FBI about issues like substance use and crime.

“It’s the only place where that data exists together,” said National Drug Court Resource Center program coordinator Savannah Bryson. “It’s something that we’re so proud of. We want to show it off; we want people to use it.”

Researchers say having all the data in one place allows them to see trends, identify vulnerable areas and see which communities could benefit from additional resources.

“It allows us to ask questions like ‘Why are there certain states where we have a high number of opioid prescriptions being dispensed but there aren’t treatment courts specifically for people with an opioid use disorder?’” Bryson explained. “Important questions like that help to inform where we need treatment courts.”

Treatment Courts in the Cape Fear

In the five-county region, Brunswick County has the most problem courts, with a drug court, a DUI court and a mental health court. According to the interactive map from the National Drug Court Resource Center, Pender, Columbus and Bladen counties have no treatment courts.

New Hanover County has one “community recovery” court. It used to have a separate DUI court and a drug treatment court until they were combined.

“I asked them to combine it to create the bandwidth to expand what we’re doing with recovery courts. We’ve been having conversations with county leaders for several years about starting a mental health treatment court,” said Chief District Court Judge J Corpening.

The new mental health treatment court is set to begin in a matter of weeks, and it’s tackling a big problem. According to Corpening, one in five people in the New Hanover County jail have a psychiatric or psychological disorder.

“Our mental health recovery court will be designed to deal with folks, both pre-arrest as a diversion and post conviction to either avoid the intersection with the criminal justice system or help guide them through their intersection with us, and to make sure that they stay connected to the mental health treatment that they need,” added Corpening.

Leaders have already chosen the team they’d like to run the new court, and hope to begin training staff in the next three to four weeks.

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