About Seattle Community Court"A nontraditional approach to address traditional problems"
Seattle Community Court serves "chronic public system users" - offenders who repeatedly commit low-level crimes, fail to comply with sanctions, fail to appear for Court, and use jail days when they could more effectively be rehabilitated through alternative strategies.
Community Courts take a different approach with defendants who have chronic social, human, and legal problems. This population is notoriously resistant to conventional solutions. By holding low-level offenders accountable, we can provide opportunities for them to give back to the communities that have been violated. The problem-solving approach of community courts recognizes that individuals as well as communities can be victims of crime.
Defendants who commit these crimes are frequently homeless individuals with severe problems such as drug or alcohol addiction and mental illness, which often drive their criminal behavior. Our traditional criminal justice model does not and cannot address these issues. Relying on jail as the sole sanction does not address the underlying problems that may be driving recidivism by this population.
Seattle's Community Court opened in March 3, 2005, initially addressing low level chronic offenders in the Downtown Core and Pioneer Square neighborhoods. By the end of 2007 it was expanded citywide and now in its 5th year, Community court partners with nearly 25 neighborhood community service sites. Through December 2009, over 5,436 defendants completed 49,436 community service hours helping 25 community organizations restore neighborhoods and serve others in need.
Defendants complete their hours as the improve neighborhoods through litter removal and urban green space restoration. They also assemble and distribute hygiene kits for the homeless, and work in food banks and non-profit organizations. Recently, participants completed a colorful mural in the Lake City neighborhood.
Additionally, over 15 social service organizations have partnered with Community Court to provide resources to participants with issues in their lives that lead to crime, such as homelessness, unemployment, and mental health or drug/alcohol problems. Assessed for needs as they opt in to the program, defendants are required by the court to make contact with agencies that can help them.
Community Court Programs
Eligible first time offenders are able to enter the Pre-trial Diversion program, where they agree to complete eight hours of community service and stay out of trouble for 90 days.
Repeat offenders, those with previous criminal histories, appear in Community Court before the judge, who reinforces the importance of seeking help. The judge also requires them to make prescribed social service linkages and complete community service hours.