Justice on the Outer Banks

My name is Caroline Pharr, I am a Senior at UNC Chapel Hill majoring in Environmental Studies and minoring in Public Policy. During my Fall 2020 semester, I am studying at the OBX Field Site, at the Coastal Studies Institute in Skyco, North Carolina. Part of my study program is an internship that began on August 24th. 

Outside of the Dare County Justice Center

I am interning at the Dare County Justice Center, in the Assistant District Attorney’s Office in Manteo, North Carolina. My internship mentor is Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Karpowicz Bland, a graduate of UNC Chapel Hill and UNC law school.

During my time interning with Assistant District Attorney Bland I have been able to  experience working in criminal justice while getting an insight for the demands of the position.  Assistant District Attorney Bland is dedicated to her role as a prosecutor and to serving in the Dare County Court system. While working and learning from the office, I have a greater understanding of how criminal justice law is practiced, and a profound appreciation for the work that the people in this office perform everyday for the Dare County community. 

Caroline Pharr leaving to go to her internship 

This Fall Semester has been like no other, being that we are taking classes and working on internships during a global pandemic. At the Dare County Justice Center, court is in session and social distancing measures are in place. When I go to my internship, I walk through the front doors with my mask on, and before I can walk through the metal detector, I have to stop and get my temperature checked. These safety measures are to help protect the public from the spread of COVID-19 .

Officer Jack Palmer in the lobby of the Dare County Justice CenterOfficer Jack Palmer in the lobby of the Dare County Justice Center

Additional safety measures include reduced seating in the courtroom, mandatory masks while inside the courtroom, and the District Attorney Office is closed to the public.  

While working in the District Attorney Office everyday is different, in the morning I could be analyzing a new case file, then that afternoon I would be doing research on legal statutes and precedents.  Many of the cases that I have been working on are related to drug crimes. While at my internship, I have been learning about the  issues that are problematic in the Dare County community. Drug related crimes are some of the most prevalent issues on the docket at the Justice Center.  These are issues that are not just happening in Dare County, but State and Nation wide as well. 

As part of my internship, my mentor assigned me as a research project on a new North Carolina law called HB 474/SB 375 Death by Distribution. This new law has been in effect as of December 2019, which would make it a felony to sell certain controlled substances to someone who dies by ingesting them. My task for this research project is to write a report about how this law is being used in North Carolina, what qualifies a person to be tried by the new law, and how it will affect the Dare County community. 

Dare County is my home. Having the opportunity to be able to work at the Assistant District Attorney’s Office with my mentor has not just helped me understand how I want to work in law, but has also shown me about the issues that are hurting my community that I had not understood the full extent of before.  

In environmental studies, we study the relationship between people and the planet, how the needs of people need to be met and balanced with the resources of our planet. We study how good public policy that protects the health and safety of people is also good for the environment. 

“Plans to protect air and water, wilderness and wildlife are in fact plans to protect man.”

                                                                                                                                  —Stewart Udall

Protection of our beaches and waters are an integral part to a healthy community, as is protecting the health of the community is an integral part of protecting our coastal ecosystems.  As someone who is passionate about the environment and protecting it, having the experience working in legal and policy enforcement at the Justice Center has given me an insight that I would not have been able to experience if not for this program. Environment health and public health are not separate.  They can only be as strong as their weakest link.  

~ Caroline Pharr (Class of 2021)