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County agrees to help with funding for new sex offender court

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By Brian Slattery

BOLIVIA— County commissioners have agreed to lend financial assistance to Superior Court Judge Ola Lewis’ latest specialty treatment court.

Since 2008, Lewis has created special treatment courts for mental health, drug treatment and driving while impaired.

The latest specialty court, known as SOAR Court—Sex Offender Accountability and Rehabilitation—received a $90,000 Governor’s Crime Commission award, Lewis said.

But the grant will reimburse money used for the specialty court, not provide it up front.

Lewis came to the county board meeting Jan. 22 to trade her grant for funding.

“I’m not asking the county to provide money for treatment, but I’m asking you to act as a pass-through for money to start the program,” Lewis said. “The money represents treatment dollars and transportation dollars for registered sex offenders in Brunswick County.”

Lewis said judges have seen a willful contempt of probation by sex offenders who don’t have transportation or can’t afford transportation to treatment or counseling.

State law requires sex offenders who don’t attend treatment to be sent to county jail three times—a minimum of 270 days—before they can be sent to the Department of Corrections where they would receive mandatory treatment. When they’re in the local detention center, the county pays expenses.

Commissioner Scott Phillips asked if sex offenders receive more treatment in prison than they would in Brunswick County.

“There’s no teeth in (laws) to go to treatment, except to go to jail at Brunswick County’s expense?” he asked.

“When we started SOAR Court, we could not (mandate) attending treatment because of a lack of funds and transportation,” Lewis said.

Lewis said the grant funding answers that concern and will also help pay for training of sex offender treatment providers.

“There is one sex offender (treatment) provider in Brunswick County. We have the money to train four more,” Lewis said.

Commissioner Pat Sykes asked if the specialty court had a budget prepared to show where the money will be spent.

She also asked how much treatment sex offenders need.

Lewis said SOAR Court began operation about 18 weeks ago and in that time they found sex offenders were not meeting their requirements.

“We saw a need for an extra layer of supervision for these individuals,” Lewis said.

Sykes recommended the board approve funds as long as the county isn’t required to provide matching funds, the money goes to SOAR Court and the county receives a monthly budget breakdown.

“This is the first grant of its kind. We will keep a meticulous record (of the funding use),” Lewis said. “I thank you wholeheartedly.”

Brian Slattery is a staff writer for The Brunswick Beacon. Reach him at 754-6890 or bslattery@brunswickbeacon.com.