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Roanoke Rapids police Chief Shane Guyant sees the pending launch of the Halifax County Accountability and Recovery Court as a positive step in addressing addiction and its treatment.

“We have so many people in the court system that are addicts,” he said following the celebration of a ceremonial $500,000 check presentation by state Representative Michael Wray Monday at the Halifax County Courthouse Complex. “They’re suffering with mental health concerns and the jail is not the place for them. They need some help.”

In the rural areas of North Carolina, he said, there are homeless problems and mental health problems. “We just don’t get the support we need monetarily and resource-wise to handle those problems. It’s a wonderful opportunity. It’s a beginning. It’s not any way at the end. It’s a beginning to find some kind of solution for this problem we have with addiction and mental health issues being punished through the court system.”

In the prelude to remarks by Senior Superior Court Judge Brenda Branch, District Court Judge Teresa R. Freeman said, “Today is historic for Halifax County. The North Carolina General Assembly has awarded Halifax County a $500,000 judicially-managed grant to start a drug court. This is historic for the county. I’m not aware of any other judicially-managed grant that we’ve ever received. I am so grateful and so thankful for all the hard work that has been done to get us to this point. We are grateful, we are excited and we hope we have community partners in the room because it’s going to be a lot of work.”

Freeman said there has been a lot of work done over the last year and there is more work to be done. “We’re going to need all hands on deck to help us make this a reality for Halifax County.”

It was last year, Branch said, that she sought permission from the Administrative Office of the Courts, and then approached Wray about what she had learned about substance abuse. “In my experience in the courtroom and the families and citizens that we serve in our county, the stories are just horrendous. For a long time we had not really reacted.”

While there were programs such as teen courts and deferral programs, she said the idea of HARC “was an all out effort to really respond the way we really need to in this county.”

Branch spoke with other court judges about what needed to be done. “We collaborated for months. After meeting with Representative Wray and the Administrative Office of the Courts, they started working, they started lobbying.”

Branch credits Melinda Hardy with laying the groundwork for the program and with the success she achieved during COVID with the juvenile court system, dispositions are now higher than filings. “That’s big in Halifax County. It means we have been working and this just adds to what we’ve been doing. We’re going to try to take those people out of court when we know they have issues we can help them with. This can be a wrap-around if they need housing, if they need a job — those types of things.”

Branch said there was a huge effort by Wray and AOC to get the funding. “At the state level we have this funding. We are absolutely enthused, absolutely motivated to keep going and moving forward.”

She said the purpose is to make a difference so there is not the revolving door. 

She said, however, “We’re not going to blink an eye when they need to go to the jail to stay. But there are times when we need to do more and act differently.”

The program will go through district court, Branch said, and Freeman has agreed to implement and preside while Judge W. Turner Stephenson III has agreed to work with her schedule and preside when there is a need as well as Judge W. Robb Lewis II. 

Wray said programs like these help give people a second chance. “Some people make mistakes in their lives  and they shouldn’t be criticized for the rest of their life. That’s what it’s about — reaching down and picking them up instead of kicking them around all the time.”

He said Branch hit the road before the program got started, thanking her for her consistency and getting him the needed information.

As senior finance chair this year and a conferee on the state budget, Wray said, “To be in the back room you’ve got to get in there and negotiate. Some people don’t believe in negotiation but it’s about teamwork, family, working together works, and making our community the best it can be.”

Wray said the state and citizens want an efficient court system and law enforcement to be respected. “It’s an honor to do this because we do have a lot of mental illnesses, we have a lot of people who have drug issues. Sometimes they have to hit the bottom before they come back on top. Sometimes we have to be there to pick them up, pray for them and help them.”

Freeman said the court system will “Continue doing what we’ve been doing for the last year and that is meeting … and trying to make sure that this court will be successful and run effectively when it begins.”
She said she is expecting a start date in June or July. “We have six more months to continue to do the groundwork and legwork and make sure it’s successful.”

Hardy, Branch said, has already applied for federal funding of over $1 million in hopes of continuing the court beyond the initial grant cycle. “We’re going higher.”