SPOKANE, Wash. - The City of Spokane will open a new branch of its community court on Tuesday at the Northeast Community Center. The location was picked based on crime statistics, and the court will cover the following region.
The city has operated a similar community court out of the downtown public library for the last four years and is modeling the new one from it, based on its success.
Community court is an alternative to traditional court for folks that have been charged with non-violent misdemeanors, charges like urinating in public, theft in the third degree, general nuisance, trespassing and evading arrest.
The court still has attorneys and a judge, and still has punitive measures like community service, but instead of handing down jail time, the judge hands down sentences with ways of getting a person's life back on track. Individuals just have to show up every Monday to check-in, and they are also able to get lunch. If they graduate from the full program, they are able to have their charges dropped.
"It is finding out what they need and removing barriers to get those needs met," said Brianne Howe, Community Court Coordinator. "It might be a housing assessment, it might be doing a mental health assessment or getting access to healthcare."
The goal is to keep individuals out of jail, improve the public space, and get people the help they need.
Howe says the court serves many chronically homeless individuals who can get lost in the court system, as can people with limited resources.
"How can I pay a fine when I don't have a job," said Richard Amdal. "Then you get in trouble for not paying the fine and then you are in more trouble, it is just a vicious cycle."
As a person who has found success in the community court system, Richard says he's glad the program is expanding. He said when he was first pointed the direction of community court, he wasn't on board.
"At first I wasn't thrilled about it," said Amdal, who was charged for smoking marijuana in a public park. "But now I realize they aren't doing it just to punish me, they are doing it to get me in touch with a whole lot of services that I didn't know existed."
One of the goals of the program is to provide services where the people who need them are at.
"Everywhere I have lived in the past, all these services were spread throughout the city and it would take an entire day to get to half of them," said Amdal. "Here you can do it all at once."
Since 2013, the downtown community court has seen over 1,130 people and had over 330 graduate from the program. The program requires 8 hours of community service and completion of all recommended services like behavioral counseling, enrolling in health insurance, obtaining a primary physician and getting housing assistance.
As a result of the program over 2,700 community service hours have been completed by community court participants in the downtown corridor.
Over 100 individuals avoided 60-90 days in jail because of non-violent misdemeanor charges.
Keeping individuals out of jail saves the tax-payers money, according to Howe, at nearly $130 per person per day.