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Saturday 'warrant clinics' increase court access in NC

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Friday, May 31, 2024   

Groups in North Carolina are rallying to change the way people are punished for low-level offenses, trying to break a cycle in which minor offenses lead to major consequences, including jail.

Black Voters Matter, in collaboration with the group Growing Real Alternatives Everywhere, has introduced Saturday warrant clinics, providing a much-needed lifeline for those unable to attend court during the week.

Anza Becnel, warrant clinic manager for Black Voters Matter, said the clinics aim to bridge the gap between the court system and the community, ultimately improving balance between the offense and the punishment for it.

"What I've found is that there are large percentages of the residents of a city who have traffic warrants and lower-level misdemeanor warrants," Becnel observed.

He pointed out warrant clinics are a helpful tool in overcoming barriers that keep people from attending court, like transportation or fear of arrest. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, low-level offenses, along with other non-felony offenses, make up about 25% of the daily jail population nationally.

Becnel noted the groups have hosted three clinics so far, helping about 250 people resolve their issue on the spot. Beyond individual benefits, Becnel argued warrant clinics are instrumental in alleviating the backlog in court systems. He emphasized the clinics often provide immediate resolutions or new court dates to participants. Becnel stressed the success of this approach lies in its community-centered focus.

"They come to the welcome table. There's a food truck and a DJ. Unlike court in the week, you can actually get food. You can talk on your cellphone. There's no law enforcement," Becnel outlined.

He added the groups are extending their warrant clinic model to other states, including Georgia, Alabama, and Texas, where each clinic will be customized to meet the specific needs of the community it serves.


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