People charged with misdemeanors in northeast Spokane will soon have a new option to stay out of jail: community court.
Spokane’s community court, which has handled low-level nonviolent crimes downtown for nearly four years, will expand into the Hillyard area by January.
The court’s goal is to connect people who commit small crimes with services and help that can solve the underlying reasons behind their actions. That could mean referrals to mental health care, housing, or addiction treatment.
People who meet with service providers and do community service typically have charges dropped.
Hillyard was selected over West Central and East Central after a needs assessment found Hillyard had about three times the number of eligible crimes, said Brianna Howe, the community court coordinator.
“The main decisive factor was really crime stats,” she said.
Downtown’s court has largely served chronically homeless people, but the focus of the Northeast court will be different, said Francis Adewale, an assistant city public defender who staffs the court.
The main focus will be on connecting people to employment, though other services will still be offered.
Adewale said they plan to focus on serving smaller groups of 20 people at a time.
“We want people to take control of their community and be the leaders that they’re supposed to be,” he said.
Police and social workers have praised the downtown court, with former downtown precinct Capt. Brad Arleth saying it was one of the main factors driving a reduction in crime downtown.
The Hillyard expansion is funded by a $200,000 grant from the Center for Court Innovation and the Department of Justice, which runs through the summer of 2018.
The grant funded Howe’s position, but isn’t paying for any additional staff. The existing team, which includes Adewale, city prosecutors Mubarak Abdur Raheem and Candace Magnin and municipal court Judge Mary Logan, will handle cases for the new location.
“That’s what we’re working with. The docket will start small,” Howe said.
Court will be held at the Northeast Community Center, Adewale said.
Police officers from the downtown precinct will train all patrol officers on the referral process, said downtown precinct Capt. Dave Singley.
To be eligible for referral, a crime must be committed within the court’s boundaries, which include nearly all of the Spokane city boundaries north of the Spokane River and east of North Division Street.
Eligible crimes include misdemeanor theft, possession of stolen property, prostitution, resisting arrest, trespassing, disorderly conduct and misdemeanor vehicle prowling.
Participants will complete their community service hours in the Northeast area, and the court plans to partner with the local COPS Shop to find opportunities to serve, she said. Court will likely be held on Wednesday afternoons.
Howe said the court’s hope is to continue expanding.
“Our goal is still to spread citywide,” she said.
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