December 16, 2015

Officials say Brunswick sex offender court, while controversial, works

12-16-15 North Carolina:

Allows better monitoring, treatment of offenders

BRUNSWICK COUNTY -- Southeastern North Carolina became the home of what officials there think is the first sex offender accountability and rehabilitation court program in the state after Ola Lewis noticed a trend in her Superior Court courtroom.

Lewis, the senior resident Superior Court judge for Brunswick County, considered starting the court after several sex offenders came into her courthouse for violating the terms of their probation -- namely not attending court-mandated treatment, which can cost about $40 a week.

"My answer to that concern," Lewis said, "was let's set it up on the drug court model and have the team of professionals, probation, treatment providers and a coordinator monitor their progress."

More than helping offenders return to society, Lewis said, the program is meant to help keep Brunswick County safe by guaranteeing that offenders receiving adequate treatment.

Misperceptions about the program can easily arise because of the nature of the offenders, said Carrie Menke, Brunswick County's mental health court coordinator, who also oversees the county's drug treatment and domestic violence treatment court.

"Do you want that person in your community getting more aware of their dysfunctional thinking patterns and how to change those thinking patterns and change those behaviors?" Menke said. "Or do you want them just not in treatment, leaving them wide open to re-offend?"

Eric Sipe, president of the N.C. chapter of the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers, questioned using grant funds to pay for offenders' treatment.

"When I was doing the treatment, attendance was always an issue, but it was always believed that that was part of the offenders' responsibility was to pay for their own treatment," said Sipe, who is now retired from practice in Catawba County, adding, "If it's working, that's great."

Offenders eligible for the program include only those whose penalties include probation, such as indecent liberties with a child or failure to register as a sex offender.

Participants in the program also receive other kinds of treatment, Menke said, often including therapy for trauma and substance abuse.

"There’s not necessarily a cure, but you have to learn what your triggers are, where to go, where not to go, change your people, places and things so that you don’t re-offend," Menke said.

Sipe, the Catawba County therapist, agreed there is no cure for sex offenders.

"They're always capable of re-offending," he said.

Since the Brunswick County program began meeting twice a month in September 2012, 17 sex offenders have participated. Of those, 11 have completed the program, while one other committed another sex offense.

When offenders participate in the court, they are privy to an advanced level of monitoring. Each court session brings together a mix of court officials, probation officers and treatment professionals.

"Any time we can get all those stakeholders together at one table it is beneficial to public safety and to what we do, which is trying to change behavior," said Mike Frazier, NC Department of Public Safety's manager for an area including Bladen, Brunswick and Columbus counties.

If a participant re-offends or no-shows a treatment session, for instance, officials are able to act quicker.

"We know immediately and we can deal with it at the next session of court," Lewis said. "They're not waiting six months to be seen by a judge." ..Source.. by Adam Wagner

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