A King County program is helping people who commit crimes turn their lives around. The program is called Community Court, and its mission is simple: To lower barriers to change.
Community Court is designed to address what is potentially driving a person's criminal behavior. It's done outside the courtroom and in a less intimidating space.
The program is reserved for non-violent offenses like shoplifting, trespassing, or possession of drug paraphernalia.
"It's a beautiful marriage of compassion and accountability,” explained Therapeutic Courts Manager Callista Welbaum. “We see what they are going through [and] understand the challenges, but we're holding them accountable for crimes they commit. We ask them to come every week. We're asking them to give back to communities where damage was done. They all have community service.”
The first multi-jurisdictional Community Court in the nation originated in Brooklyn 20 years ago. According to research from the Center for Court Innovation, juveniles were 20% less likely to re-offend after Community Court, and adults were 10% less likely to commit new crimes.
A similar program launched in Spokane, Washington, in 2013 where the results are more dramatic. According to researchers at Washington State University, only 20% of Community Court participants were charged with another offense within six months of completing the program compared to 32% of the comparison samples.
After a year, 30% of Community Court participants got in trouble again compared to 46% for the rest of the population.
What was especially notable to researchers in some communities was the decrease in crimes in areas served by the justice center.
King County launched its first Community Court in Redmond nearly two years ago. Burien opened a Community Court last year, and Shoreline recently opened one as well.
One perk of the program is a weekly resource fair where defendants can get connected to services. But the resource fair is also open to everyone in the community, regardless if they have been charged with a crime.
While King County's program is still too new to evaluate the impact, Welbaum is confident they're moving in the right direction.