Working With AmeriCorps
One of the critical components to the success of Seattle Community Court is appropriate staffing to support and monitor defendants in completing community service hours. We have engaged AmeriCorps members to accomplish this task. With their idealism and commitment to positive change, this approach has proved to be an effective solution, not only through increased compliance, but also realizing a significant decrease in recidivism.
After a national search, beginning in the fall of 2006, we began with one full time JustServe AmeriCorps member and one Martin Luther King Vista member with a strong commitment to making positive change in the community. The team has grown in recent years and Americorps members have provided Community Court participants with more resources, like the retail theft course. These idealistic corps members support defendants with a theme of camaraderie and common respect, integrating the team-based neighborhood restoration activities with regard for defendants' various needs and situations.
Self Awareness Workshop (SAW)
The Self Awareness Workshop is a program provided by the Court Resource Center and staffed by AmeriCorps to help aid Community Court participants with various life struggles. The workshop takes place over an entire day and occurs twice a month. Covering topics from impulsivity management to goal setting, the workshop promotes open dialogue and communication between participants and staff. Previous participants have given praise to the open forum format and malleability of the workshop.
"I was on my way to court one morning and a guy stopped me on the street. He asked me if I remembered him and I said yes he was in community court. He said he was mad at me because I had gotten in his head. He said he used to be able to just do whatever he wanted and didn't care about the consequences. Now every time he would get ready to do something wrong he would picture me asking him something like 'are you sure this is what you want to do?' or 'do you think this is the best thing for you to do?' or 'don't you want more out of life?' We laughed about how he didn't realize how significant the court was until after he had completed the program. He told me he was different and it was my fault. I told him change was always hard at first but if he stuck with it he could stop doing wrong altogether. He laughed at the idea but thanked me. I wished him luck and have never seen him again." - Tuere Sala, Founding Community Court Prosecutor
By the end of the workshop, participants will be able to walk away with the following outcomes:
- Understand the relationship between life circumstances and our behavior
- Learn to recognize unfavorable circumstances and develop the skills to find support resources
- Increase knowledge of managing personal and financial resources
- Develop awareness of the difference between impulsive and planned action
- Develop awareness of the difference between short and long-term thinking
- Understand the economic impact of theft on the community
- Create a plan for personal change
Defendant's respond positively to being supported; thus, resulting in hard work and clean neighborhoods. Often released directly from jail and transported to the site, the day begins by clearly identifying the role of the AmeriCorps members as supporters rather than enforcers; they are there to help the defendants complete the requirements of the agreement they made in court. Community volunteers are often present, thanking defendants for their help. The majority of participants return on their own the following days to complete their hours, despite spending the night in a shelter, on the street, or whatever else they encounter in their difficult lives.
The process of working side by side provides opportunities for defendants to share their difficulties with AmeriCorps members who have an array of resources available, making direct referrals to housing, treatment, and other social service providers.
"It was fun doing community service with other people and the staff from AmeriCorps who are great and friendly people." - Community Court Participant
"Community Court was wonderful, thanks to the caring and considerate staff members. They made a stressful situation seem like a piece of cake!" - Community Court Participant
Idealistic and Inspired Young People
The ingredients of idealistic and inspired young people working alongside marginalized and struggling individuals has resulted in a very successful model.
Inspiring people like Tracy Hansen-Lamont, an Americorps Liason, make Americorps such a positive force for change in Community Court.
Tracy Hansen-Lamont is a native of Seattle and grew up in the Ballard neighborhood. In 2012 he earned his Bachelor degree in Sociology at the University of Washington. Since then he has worked for the Seattle Community Court as an AmeriCorps Liaison. Tracy supervises community service, co-facilitates the court's theft awareness workshop, and performs reentry counseling. He says, "Being a Community Court Liaison has been an amazing experience. In my time at the court I have learned how to create positive relationships with a vulnerable population. I've also acquired the skills to work with a multidisciplinary group to create positive circumstances for our defendants." Tracy now works as a social worker.
For more information as to how to get involved with Americorps, please email Tricia Lapitan at email@example.com.
Volunteer opportunities can also be found at http://www.seattle.gov/courts/general/careeropps.htm