Thursday, November 20, 2008

BEATS: COMMUNITY COURTS

Crime Blog - Dallas will open its second community county at the West Dallas Multipurpose Center. . . It is one of less than a dozen such courts in the nation. . . "Community courts offer lower level misdemeanor offenders the option of community service rather than fines to help restore neighborhoods victimized by crime." according to the press release. "Dallas community courts manager Dianne Gibson says community courts offer offenders a chance to make restitution to the neighborhoods they have victimized and lowers the chances for recidivism. Those sentenced in community courts not only have the opportunity to participate in free drug and alcohol treatment programs, and job training and placement assistance, but they can also receive food and transportation vouchers," Gibson says.

Oregon Live - Community Court turned a decade old this year, cementing its status as an alternative to the traditional court system. The court, the second oldest in the nation, processes the lowest level of offenders: shoplifters, vandals, prostitutes, johns, public drunks, public urinators, MAX fare evaders, minors with alcohol, clerks who sold alcohol to minors and people caught possessing crack pipes with residue.

By the numbers:

More than 6,000: The number of offenders who pass through Multnomah County's Community Court in Portland each year.

8 hours: The amount of community service a first-time shoplifter who's stolen more than $50 worth of merchandise gets after pleading guilty.

3 days: The amount of jail time that offender would get for failing to do the community service or for not following the judge's orders in some other way.

27 percent: Percentage ordered to get mental-health treatment.

63 percent: Percentage ordered to get drug and alcohol treatment.

7 out of 10: Defendants who complete their community-service hours.

6 out of 10 :Defendants who follow through with counseling or treatment, as ordered.

The court was modeled after the nation's first such court, in Manhattan. . . Multnomah County District Attorney Michael Schrunk remembers chancing upon the court during a trip to New York, then returning with then-Presiding Judge Donald Londer, now deceased, because he was so impressed.

"I said, 'God, I'd really love to be able to do that,'" Schrunk says. "The idea was to do something about ... the crimes that drive you crazy."

First, however, the court system had to find a judge.

"It takes a special type of judge to do this," Schrunk says. "It's kind of quirky, and there's a little bit of theater involved. It's not for everyone. It's different. You're not slugging felons, you're trying to change behavior."

Multnomah County opened its first Community Court in March 1998 on the King Elementary School campus, processing offenses out of North and Northeast Portland. Judge Clifford Freeman, now deceased, presided.

Public defender Garrett Richardson remembers how serious Freeman was about getting the message across to defendants.

"He'd make them write out 100 times or 500 times 'I will not steal from Safeway,'" Richardson says. "It was just like grade school. A lot of people thought it was sort of degrading, but a lot of people thought that's what people should be doing to get it through their heads that they shouldn't be stealing.". . .

First-time defendants who obey the judge's orders have their crimes, with some exceptions, wiped from their records. Those who don't are thrown in jail for misdemeanors or fined for violations.

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