Monroe’s city court to add rehabilitation path
MONROE — This spring, the city’s municipal court will be establishing a therapeutic, intervention-based community court program.
Community courts offer low-level, nonviolent criminals with substance use disorders or other behavioral health a pathway into treatment as a condition of probation. Qualified defendants are given the option to join a rehabilitation program at their arraignment hearing.
Monroe Municipal Court Judge Jessica Ness said the community court would give offenders a quicker resolution compared to criminal court, connect individuals to needed resources and by doing so, reduce the crime rate and save taxpayers money.
|Judge Jessica Ness
Monroe’s community court plans to launch April 1. Ness said the start date could be sooner than that, depending on how quickly they can organize. She said the community court is a collaborative effort between the courts, Monroe Police Department, prosecutors, public defenders and social workers to reduce crime and hold offenders accountable with compassion for the individual’s situation.
Cmdr. Paul Ryan of the Monroe Police Department said the police department is optimistic this model will assist individuals experiencing significant life struggles.
“We look forward to partnering with the community court,” Ryan said in an interview. “Our community outreach officer and assigned social worker have experienced good working relationships with the court, prosecutor and public defender, and our work with the community court will be a continuation of those efforts.”
A therapeutic court targets the reason for the non-violent crime with treatment and social services, unlike a traditional criminal court system that responds to all crimes with punitive action, Ness explained.
Ness can only mandate substance use disorder treatment as a condition of probation; she has no authority before the trial to order treatment or require cooperation with a social worker.
The court cannot order treatment or any condition that is related to crime until after the case is resolved or as part of probation conditions. A community court also has the authority to order a person to enroll for state health insurance or housing assistance, obtain state identification or work towards a GED.
The program consists of finding the person’s social service needs, such as substance addiction treatment, housing, a GED, state health insurance or food assistance. A defendant must be diverted to services at least twice before being tried through the regular criminal court system. Upon successful completion of the community court program, the charges will be dropped.
Ness said the resolution time through community court takes three to 12 months compared to one to two years through a criminal court.
There are regular check-ins between community court participants and a court team which includes administrators and a counselor. Treatment plans and other conditions will be reviewed at periodic, judicially supervised status hearings. If the offender fails to complete the Community court program, they return to the traditional criminal track.
The case is continued for three, six, nine or 12 months while the person is receiving social services through the court’s resource center.
In December, the City Council approved receiving a state grant to establish the community court.
“We all grapple with what is the right way to go at the homelessness crisis. I think this is the right approach to tackle it,” City Council member Jason Gamble said at the council meeting. “I’ve often personally said; I think it’s inhumane that we have people who are on the streets that are suffering from drug and alcohol addiction, and they’re not in rehab.”
Monroe Police Chief Jeff Jolley told the council that the court “also dovetails well with our concept of problem-oriented policing and drilling down even more so to deal with offenders to get to the core issues, the root of the problem and try to remedy those kinds of things which often are a result of mental illness, drug use or homelessness and actually try to resolve those issues and direct them to resources.”
The $158,779 grant from the state Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) covers the costs of the community court for its first two years, city administrator Deborah Knight said. The city will work to budget years three and four.
Ness said this AOC grant is the first time a grant has been awarded to a local level court for a therapeutic court. The grants are usually awarded to higher-level courts, Ness said.
A community court in Monroe also makes it a rarity among municipal courts serving communities of less than 25,00 people.
In a 10-year study on drug court results, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) tracked data from 6,500 offenders in the Multnomah County Drug Court from 1991 to 2001 from a pre-plea drug court in Portland, Oregon. Their research found that the participants had fewer re-arrests than similar drug offenders within the same county over a five-year period. The study also found recidivism reduction ranged from 17% to 26% due to assigned judges and changes to therapeutic court programs over time. In a two-year follow-up study in Kansas City, Missouri and Pensacola, Florida, NIJ researchers found felony re-arrest rates decreased from 40% to 12% after a therapeutic court was established.
The NIJ’s findings also back Ness’s statement of saving taxpayers’ money. The study found the cost of processing an individual through Community courts was $1,392 less per defendant than a criminal court and averaged a public savings of $67,44 per participant.
The funding for therapeutic courts is built into what’s known as the Blake decision from the state Supreme Court. Currently, drug possession charges are reduced to misdemeanors rather than felonies until July 1, 2023 and, unless the law is changed between now and then, will be fully decriminalized after that date. Possession of drug paraphernalia has been decriminalized with no sunset clause in place.
In 2016, Shannon Blake of Spokane was arrested for drug possession. Blake said she was unaware of the small packet of crystal methamphetamine in the coin pocket of a pair of thrift store jeans she received from a friend. She appealed the case. In 2021, a state Supreme Court majority determined the state’s drug crime law was unconstitutional because it does not provide an exception for defendants who unknowingly possess drugs.
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