Why Community Court Works
Misdemeanor crime negatively impacts communities by decreasing the quality of life among residents, business owners and other stakeholders, who become vicitims of these nuisance crimes. Theft, prostitution, trespass and other low-level offenses contribute significantly to neighborhood deterioration.
Many of those who commit such crimes have multiple barriers to healthy and contributive lives. Underlying conditions such as addiction to drugs and alcohol, unemployment, homelessness and mental health issues are often the root cause of repeated involvement in the criminal justice system.
"I feel that Community Court is a great program. It is a real pleasure to know that you’re making a difference in the community." - Community Court Participant
Traditional treatment, relying on punitive measures such as multiple court apprearances and jail, are ineffective for these chronic system users. If a homeless person is charged with trespass for sleeping in a park, or theft because they took food without paying when they were hungry, what is the best way for the justice system to respond?
This population needs a helping hand. The 52 month Community Court report reveals that nearly 60% of our participants are homeless, 65% are chemically dependant, and a whopping 82% are unemployed!
"Community Court was wonderful, thanks to the caring & considerate staff members. They made a stressful situation seem like a piece of cake!" - Community Court Participant
Seattle Community Court gives immediate sanctions to these offenders. Each participant is given a needs assessment before they appear in court. This assessment gives the judge a tool to require social services linkages that directly address their own individual needs. With a goal to see what's available, receive help and become enabled to make positive choices, each defendant must make an in-person contact with their recommended social services.
Community Court has "given me a higher regard for the community and the environment." - Community Court Participant
They also must be held accountable for the crimes they committed. Assigned community service hours, 'giving back' to neighborhoods with the most need, provides immediate defendant accountability and promotes positive community stewardship among our participants. Neighborhoods, as the victims of misdemeanor crimes, see justice served as offenders 'give back' to the communities they 'took from'.
A Community Court participant explained his experience best:
- "Instead of sitting in jail and do nothing it was nice to go out and see the different things to be worked on.
Seeing and hearing the public appreciation (for what) we were doing was great. It was not an easy time but it
felt that it was time well-spent. I had time to reflect on what had gone on and my part in it. As far as punitive
measures go I think this had much more impact than sitting in jail."
- "The program has introduced me to housing services and DESC case-manager. So after 10 years I'll finally have housing and [a] case-manager."