Two social work professors at UNC Pembroke are helping lay the groundwork for a DWI treatment court–the first of its kind in Robeson County.
Dr. Cindy Locklear and Frederick Stephens represent the university on a team that includes representatives from Robeson Health Care Corporation, Probation and Parole, Robeson County Family Drug Treatment Court, Clerk’s Office, Robeson County Sheriff’s Office, Clerk’s Office, District and Superior Court judges and the District Attorney’s Office.
DWI treatment courts are part of nationwide criminal justice reform. They are designed to help alcohol dependent offenders change their behavior after being arrested for driving while impaired. County offenders will be referred to DWI treatment court beginning in December.
Locklear, Stephens and Master of Social Work student Alexis Ellis are assisting with developing policies, procedures and guidelines for the new system. The UNCP delegation will also conduct research, grant writing and serve as program evaluator.
DWI court is intended to speed up case processing, target repeat offenders and provide treatment options for them. Treatment court promotes recovery through a coordinated, team approach including cooperation and collaboration of judges, prosecutors, defense counsel, probation authorities, treatment providers and law enforcement.
Studies have shown these innovative courts save taxpayer dollars and make communities safer.
“Instead of using a punitive approach, such as jail time and fines, you are offering treatment as an alternative in order to get to the root of the issue and prevent recidivism,” Locklear said. “This will allow us to address the actual dependency or the addiction. Dependency is a disease. You are not going to cure a disease with jail time.”
Robeson County ranked fifth with 13 alcohol-related fatal crashes in 2017, according to the N.C. Governor’s Highway Safety Program. In 2018, 1,230 pending DWIs were in the system in the county.
“The drug treatment court will help family members have a better outlook for individuals who are struggling with dependency since the program will be designed to support the family system as well,” Professor Stephens said.
“This program will ultimately assist in creating safer communities by providing treatment instead of punishment and we should quickly see a decrease in the recidivism rate,” he said.
Locklear was among the planning committee who attended a week-long
DWI court training in Duluth, Minn. in September. The committee included Sen. Danny Britt, District Attorney Greg Bell, Judge Greg Bell, Bart Grimes with Robeson Health Care Corp., Truman Raines, Probation and Parole, and Valerie Comrie, Robeson County Family Drug Treatment Court. They visited DWI courts in Duluth and Brunswick County–one of six operational courts in the state.
The district attorney’s office was awarded a $194,285 startup grant from the N.C. Governors Highway Safety Program. The funding is for one year. Locklear has been tasked with seeking a federal grant to extend the program. The team is looking to expand the program to include low-level drug offenders.
Locklear said her work with treatment court aligns with her teaching model at UNCP.
“We work to create change in communities, individuals and families. This is another example of the university’s interest in engaging and improving the community.
“There is substantial research supporting the model to show that it works. I think it’s worth the investment and the time because you can see in other places how it has made a measurable difference in people's lives,” Locklear added.