What will Buncombe do with $2.25M in federal grants to help victims, reduce crime?

[Asheville Citizen-Times] What will Buncombe do with $2.25M in federal grants to help victims, reduce crime?

What will Buncombe do with $2.25M in federal grants to help victims, reduce crime?

ASHEVILLE - Buncombe County's efforts to prevent crime and help victims is getting a federal infusion of nearly $2.25 million following two grant approvals that passed Board of Commissioners in a unanimous Oct. 18 vote.

In a budget amendment for the county’s Justice Services Department, commissioners greenlighted grant money from the Bureau of Justice Affairs for $750,000 and the United States Department of Justice grant of nearly $1.5 million to help bolster Buncombe’s treatment courts and its community safety and violence prevention initiatives.

“This work both aligns with our 2025 strategic plan and the racial equity action plan," Director Justice Services Department Tiffany Iheanacho told commissioners during a presentation on the budget amendment said. Specifically, she added, Justice Services is invested in increasing the number of successful treatment court graduates and reducing the crime rate, including the violence and property crimes within our county.

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Treatment courts are a recovery based intervention to assist people living with substance use and mental health disorders move out of the justice system and into lives of wellness and stability, according to Buncombe County's Justice Service webpage. There are three treatment courts coordinated by the county:

Adult Drug Treatment CourtSobriety/DWI Treatment CourtVeteran Treatment Court

Specifically, the money will go toward scaling up the county’s existing court program service delivery by providing improved access to treatment, enhancing treatment capacity, enhancing operations in all three treatment courts by adding a new full-time position of a clinician/therapist and a contracted peer support specialist, according to the spending briefs. 

It will also be invested in creating a new grants manager position inside Justice Services, dedicated to support the initiative, enhancing the work of current partners, supporting coalitions focused on community violence prevention and contracting with community-based organizations to hire community health workers trained in violence prevention, according to the spending briefs.

Justice leaders, as noted in documents explaining the spending, hope the result of these grants include increasing public safety, reducing recidivism, and improving access to behavioral health treatment for eligible participants. 

As part of her presentation, Iheanacho noted research completed in partnership with the Asheville Police Department regarding victims of crime in Buncombe. That research found from 2010-2020, roughly one-third of crime victims were Black. Iheanacho noted 11% of the Buncombe population when that study was completed were Black.

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“(There has been an) increase in Black victims of violent crime each year,” Iheanacho said in her presentation. It rose from 148 victims in 2010 to 236 in 2020. 

“The risk of being a victim of violent crime is greater for Black residents,” she added. 

Black victims, according to the research, make up an even larger percentage depending on crime type:

Homicide — 62% Aggravated assault — 39% Armed robbery — 23%

“When I see the money that we're spending in the grants we're giving, one of the big concerns I have — and I've watched it really increase just in the time I've been on the commission — is the deaths of young African American men in the community,” Commissioner Al Whitesides said following Iheanacho's presentation.

“What are we doing to solve that? You know, we do a good job of talking about it, but I still see it happen. I can't say it for sure, but if we get a look at the murders we've had in Buncombe County in the last few years, I'm sure the majority of black men, young black men. And we’ve got to do something that really concerns me.”

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“From our perspective, this is Buncombe County's first time doing this type of initiative,” said Iheanacho, referencing programs her department is implementing to address crime reduction.

“We're hoping that we could learn from other communities. It's also about building capacity: We do have staff that are supporting mothers who have lost their children to gun violence, and I believe they hosted a community event or a forum. So it's also about giving support to the community and providing capacity and capacity building. And that's what we're trying to do in this grant endeavor. 

She said she hoped with partnerships and the participatory research, Justice Services can come back to commission and report on positive outcomes.

“Well I hope so, because we're not Chicago or other places,” Whitesides said. “We're small enough to seem like we can get our arms around it and solve it.”

Andrew Jones is an investigative reporter for the Asheville Citizen Times, part of the USA TODAY Network. Reach him at @arjonesreports on Facebook and Twitter, 828-226-6203 or arjones@citizentimes.com. Please help support this type of journalism with a subscription to the Citizen Times.