GUILFORD COUNTY, N.C. (WGHP) – A pilot program in the form of an ankle bracelet is creating a whole new level of protection for domestic violence victims.
The program is called Caitlyn’s Courage and is geared toward tracking accused abusers before they head to trial. It helps ensure they can’t come in contact with those they’re accused of abusing.
In 2020 the North Carolina State Legislature allocated $3.5 million dollars of COVID-19 stimulus funds towards the pilot program. It was in remembrance of 25-year-old Caitlyn Whitehurst, who was killed by her boyfriend two years ago in Pitt County.
“Her family really took that tragedy and said how can we do something different to protect other people,” said Catherine Johnson, the director of the Guilford County Family Justice Center. “Caitlyn’s Courage has been a game-changer.”
The program was rolled out in the height of the COVID-19 pandemic as domestic violence cases skyrocketed in the Piedmont Triad.
Johnson told FOX8 there is currently a total of 88 people in Guilford County enrolled in the program. Of those, 55 are domestic violence suspects who are required to wear an ankle bracelet by a court order.
“We cannot delay accountability if we want to disrupt the cycles of violence,” she said. “We really see Caitlyn’s Courage as an opportunity to help put some accountability on that offender, to give victims more space to make decisions about what they want, where they’re going, what they want to do.”
Between the crime committed and trial, domestic violence suspects may be ordered by a judge to wear the GPS monitoring device if they are released on bond.
“This tool puts the responsibility and the accountability on the person doing the harm,” Johnson said. “Not the person who has been harmed.”
Victims can opt into the program by wearing a similar device with a clip.
“It’s basically giving the victim a heads up that the person is in the area otherwise they wouldn’t know,” said Lance Cable, a manager of Tarheel Monitoring.
He installs and tracks the movements of suspects. He told FOX8 if a suspect gets within three miles to 300 feet of the victim the company and victim are alerted.
The program is currently in 12 judicial districts spanning 29 counties. Both Guilford and Forsyth County are included in the pilot. Plans are in development for Alamance County.
Cable told FOX8 he has seen a dramatic difference in Guilford County since its implementation this past January. “There had been an excess of like 20 homicides in domestic situations last year and that number basically under protection orders has fallen to zero,” he said.
The victim’s home, workplace and other significant locations are off-limits to suspects at all times. The closer someone gets, the more likely police will be dispatched.
“Before they actually arrive and would create a violation they’ll [a call center] reach out to them,” Cable said. “Attempt to make contact and be like you know you need to leave that area, if they turn and leave, all good. If they proceed on it goes to law enforcement.”
If a suspect violates the protection order including remaining in close proximity to a victim, not charging or cutting off the bracelet they may end up back in court and face more charges.
Johnson said Family Justice Center staff identify high-risk victims and encourage participation in the program to help prevent a tragedy like Whitehurst’s. “I’ve had survivors share with me that it feels so much stronger than some of the other measures that they were using such as filing for a restraining order,” she said. “We’ve seen a real shift in the accountability measures being taken against abusers which is certainly increasing the safety in our community.”
Johnson hopes the program will eventually reach every part of North Carolina.