The April 10, 2019 precinct meeting began with a couple remarks from Drew about a potential field trip to Raleigh; we’ll explore possibilities for that in mid- to late-May. After that, the meeting was turned over to Mecklenburg Country District Attorney Spencer Merriweather, who told us a bit his office and its duties (85 prosecutors, 50 support staff), then addressed three chief topics: 1) the bail system; 2) the “raise the age” initiative; and 3) a family justice center. What follows is an informal summary of his statements about these three topics.
- The Bail System
The system is inherently unjust. Those who have money can get out of jail. Those who don’t but who pose no threat to the community cannot. We need to move to a system where release is based on safety, not a price tag. Domestic abuse cases are especially difficult; we need a lethality assessment process in place.
We need a pre-trial justice system that can help minor offenders, people in need of substance abuse counseling, etc. The county government seems to be behind this sort of pre-trial justice system.
- Raise the age
At present, anyone 16 or over is treated like an adult. Given what we now know about brain development, this is an extremely outmoded, punitive, and counter-productive practice. Next year, the state plans to raise the age to 18, which is progress, at least.
Tricky thing is, treating juveniles can be more expensive, and the General Assembly seems unlikely to provide more funding. Mecklenburg County has a disproportionate number of juvenile offenders and will need more resources.
- The Family Justice center
A Family Justice Center would be a one-stop shop for survivors of domestic violence. We need satellites in North and South Mecklenburg. There are good example out there of how this can work, e.g., Milwaukee.
After D.A. Merriweather concluded his prepared remarks, he answered questions from the audience. A recurring theme in these questions was school safety, especially the troubling notion of arming teachers.
The meeting shifted to a few concluding remarks about the on-going strategic plan, which we hope to present to the precinct for a vote at our next meeting, scheduled for Monday, May 20.
Meeting adjourned, 8-ish.