Plan for new judicial maps would be disaster for Robeson

Someone give the Republican leadership in the General Assembly a batch of coloring books.

Then their eagerness to draw won’t cause any damage.

We are glad to get on board with Republicans when it comes to tax cuts and the economy, and some of their education initiatives, which push accountability and choice. But they have shown themselves inept when drawing district lines for Congress and the General Assembly, which higher courts keep finding unconstitutional.

And now they have announced plans to redraw judicial district lines for the first time in a half century. There might well be a compelling reason to do so, but the map that is being floated in the House would make worse the crime problem in Robeson County, which is already the worst in North Carolina.

Under a House plan that could be voted on this week, Robeson County, which now constitutes all of Judicial District 16B, would join Scotland County as a judicial district. That means those two counties would have one district attorney instead of two, and two Superior Court judgeships, instead of three. Other crime-fighting resources would be similarly sapped.

There are many statistics that point to the Mt. Everest-like crime problem in Robeson County, including its annual ranking as being No. 1 in North Carolina in overall crime, and often No. 1 as well in violent and property crime. But chew on this for a second: Last year in Robeson County, there were more than 50 murders, a higher number than in some states.

Right now in Robeson County, there are more than 100 accused murderers awaiting trial, some that are years away. And more than a few accused killers are out on bond and walking among us.

But House Republicans are pushing a plan to give this county fewer resources to expedite those trials, which on paper at least, would provide another level of safety for the public.

Sen. Danny Britt, a Republican whose day job is lawyering, understands full well how disastrous this plan, should it remain intact, would be for Robeson County. Britt has pledged to fight fellow Republicans on the plan — and this week might be a good measure of how big a bat the still freshman senator carries in Raleigh.

We have said for years that what is required in Robeson is a mini-Manhattan project to deal with the number of pending murder cases. We would like the state to call on retired judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, whoever is willing to chip in, to descend on Robeson County, pitch a tent and begin chewing through the calendar.

District Attorney Johnson Britt doesn’t necessarily agree, believing that the fix is in a more thoughtful approach on the state level. Currently, judicial resources are distributed by population, with no consideration at all toward the crime rate.

So Orange County, one of the safest places not only in North Carolina but in the Milky Way, because it has roughly the same number of people as does Robeson County, is wholly included in a single district, 15B, giving it the same kind of resources as this county. That is an antiquated and self-defeating approach to fighting crime and keeping the people of this state safe.

If Republicans in Raleigh are anxious for an overhaul, they would be wise to worry less about drawing new maps and instead adopt a different and more thoughtful approach to fighting crime in the courtroom, which would actually consider as a factor the scope of the problem. The system now in place clearly isn’t working in Robeson County — and the new maps that are being considered will only make us less safe.