11/09/07 — Offenders can do conference to serve

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Offenders can do conference to serve

By Nick Hiltunen
Published in News on November 9, 2007 2:14 PM

Organizers of a conference designed to reach gang members and others involved in illegal drug activity have asked a judge to assign offenders to the gathering as part of their sentencing.

Wayne County's Superior Court Judge Jerry Braswell is allowing some offenders with known links to drugs and gangs to use the Corner 2 Corner Drug Dealer/Gang Member Redemption Confer-ence as a substitute for court obligations.

The conference enters its second day today offering "young people on the periphery of the drug and gang culture" programs aimed at changing the course of their lives, organizers said.

Braswell said judges have leeway to offer alternative programs for offenders instead of costly jail time, which currently runs about $40 per inmate per day, the judge has said.

"In exchange for attending these programs, we will do some things to modify their division fees or their community service responsibilities," Braswell said.

The court system is also helping transport the drug and gang-related offenders to the conference site on Hooks River Road, the superior court judge said.

Braswell's interest was two-fold, he said -- for one, he thought the programs offered "a lot of good ideas."

Secondly, it can be hard to place such offenders in community service programs anyway.

"As it turns out, we sometimes have trouble placing people," Braswell said. "Some of the agencies don't want them, so we often have more folks who have been assigned to do community service than we have locations in which to place them."

The judge thought the Corner 2 Corner conference, organized by the Goldsboro-based "Stop the Funeral" campaign, could benefit from his ability to provide "a captive audience."

The Rev. William J. Barber, who helped organize the Stop the Funeral campaign, originally contacted District Attorney Branny Vickory, Braswell said.

Vickory forwarded the group on to the judge because the offenders they sought were under his jurisdiction, he said.

"Some of our offenders have been affiliated with ... gangs, others we know have had some substance abuse problems."

Because the court system's probation supervisors do random drug screens, "we know who has the drug problems," Braswell said.

Barber said he looked forward to the outcome of the program, which will use speakers like the district attorney, clergy, mothers, a psychologist and former drug dealers and gang members who say they have turned their lives around.

"The city officials understand you can't arrest this problem," Barber said. "It is a powerful step to believe that decisions, they can be changed."