This has been the hardest article for me to write. Not because of the material, there’s plenty of it. So much good being done in these departments that I don’t want to leave anything out. The problem is you won’t read it all in one sitting.
Our fourth night was a long one; we started at 6:30 and didn’t leave until 9:30, our fault, we had so many questions. In an effort to cover each department, as they should be, I’m going to do this in two parts.
We met at the Sheriff’s Department in the new courthouse in Carthage. Janet Paris, the Director of Child Support, Day Reporting and Youth Services began the evening with a look at Child Services. In 1975 a federal law was passed requiring states to create programs to aid with the “establishment and collection of child support to insure that both parents support their children”. It just makes sense since some parents think that they can just walk away and leave all responsibilities behind. This department provides the resources needed to provide basic needs like housing, food, clothing and school supplies. Because they have access to state and federal databases, they can locate the “noncustodial parent” and establish a “Support Order” that spells out the monthly amount that needs to be paid. This can be enforced through income withholding, liens on real/personal property and court actions, to name a few.
Jeanette Schoonover told us about the Day Reporting Center, which serves “as an alternative to incarceration for offenders”. The Moore County Center opened in 1994 and funding is provided by State Criminal Justice Partnership Grants. Through this program, pre-trial citizens and sentenced offenders are served; the goal is to keep them out of jail, yet in a structured program. This frees up jail cells saving an average of $68.00 per person, per day. “Each citizen released from jail while awaiting sentencing and required to attend the Day Reporting Center are to comply with the rules established for them by the staff.” The programs offered through the Center include substance abuse assessments, education and treatment, GED classes, Life Skills, Employability and Family Education classes.
Last to speak was Mark Burdette of Youth Services. Their mission is to hold delinquent youths accountable for their actions and to provide the resources to help them become a responsible and productive citizen. Through Youth Services, Juvenile Restitution and Teen Court Programs are offered. “Juvenile Restitution allows the offender to pay for crimes committed through monetary and/or community service.” They can do community service by working in ground maintenance, at the Food Bank or help in the Thrift Store. They can also make $5.00 an hour by working in Libraries, Police Departments, Recreation Departments, the Fire Department, Schools or Churches. The goal is to teach personal responsibility.
Teen Court is the best program I have ever heard of. This is an “alternative system of justice where first-time offenders are tried by their peers for misdemeanor offenses.” The Clerk of Court, the bailiff, the attorneys and the jurors are all student volunteers. Real judges and attorneys volunteer to be the court’s judge. Mr. Burdette goes into Middle and High Schools, presents the program and recruits volunteers. He tells us that we all should visit these courts; these students are smart and just. The sentencing, decided by the peer jury, could be community service, writing a letter of apology, attending a life services counseling session or participating as a juror in Teen Court.
As with all too many good government programs, the funding is low. Each department does the best they can with the money they receive; sometimes above and beyond…all of them are “Just doing their part!”