For centuries, the citizens of our state have extolled the virtues of a fair and judicious court system. But state budget cuts, promoted by Sen. Jim Davis and the Republican-led General Assembly, are seriously challenging the court system’s proud reputation.
In the past year, more than thirty-eight million dollars have been cut from the overall state judicial system. As a result, the system has lost fifty-five assistant district attorney and support staff positions. Some 1,250 full-time staff jobs in the offices of local prosecutors, clerks of courts, and prisons have also been eliminated.
Budgets for drug treatment courts, as well as the program to help offenders get substance abuse treatment instead of prison time, have also been cut. Sentencing service programs, staff psychologists, housing unit supervisors and youth counselor technicians in our juvenile justice system have been dropped as well.
The impact of these cuts is also being felt locally. Macon and Jackson counties have lost magistrates. This affects the citizens of Highlands in particular, who now must go before a magistrate in Franklin.
The District Attorney’s office in Waynesville, which serves our seven most western counties, has lost two assistant District Attorneys and two critical staff positions. With crime having more than doubled in this region in recent years, there are now fewer staff for investigations, contacting and interviewing witnesses, and keeping vast amounts of files organized and processed.
Time is always a crucial factor in dealing with criminal investigations and trials. Without sufficient staff to provide timely acquisition of evidence and witnesses, and without adequate time to prepare for trials, court performance by our District Attorneys can suffer and criminal cases can be compromised.
While most North Carolinians are for fiscal responsibility, they will sacrifice when the loss of funding affects the safety of their communities and the fair and judicial way in which a personal court case might be handled.
The result of Sen. Davis and the Republican-led Assembly’s budget cuts, therefore, might be best summed up with the old adage, “Justice Delayed is Justice Denied”.
Ben Utley — Franklin, NC