Prosecutors in five Eastern North Carolina counties will soon begin requesting minimum bail amounts of $1 million for those charged with selling opioids, such as heroin and fentanyl.
“If you are peddling poison for profit in this five county region, you need to know that the cost of business just went up dramatically,” said Benjamin David, district attorney for Pender and New Hanover Counties, at a press conference on Tuesday. “We are going to be asking for your continued incarceration while you’re awaiting trial because we believe you are a flight risk, and more importantly, because of the dangerousness to the community.”
The new policy will affect Pender, New Hanover, Bladen, Brunswick and Columbus Counties, an area where one person dies each week from opioid-related causes, David said. Between 2016 and 2017, the number of opioid-addicted infants born at New Hanover Regional Medical Center almost tripled, he said.
“We have a duty to speak for the dead. We have a duty to give victims a voice,” David said. “And we are not going to take this lying down.”
To measure the initiative’s success, local officials will check for reductions in opioid-related death rates and the number of infants born addicted to these substances, David said.
Lawyers with the North Carolina ACLU plan to monitor how DA offices enforce this new policy, said Mike Meno, the chapter's spokesperson.
“When you set an amount like that, the goal is clearly to keep people in jail before they’ve been convicted of a crime.” Meno said. “And that is a very problematic and potentially unconstitutional practice.”
Meno says there’s little evidence that setting high bail amounts reduces or deters crime, and this practice could actually create more harm than good.
“A situation like this where bail is being set so high – where it’s impossible for anyone to pay – is simply going to lead to overcrowded jails and a real misallocation of taxpayer dollars that could be better spent on public health approaches, things like treatment or intervention,” Meno said.