Arlington eyes innovative community court for homelessness-related crimes, bringing help, not punishment for repeat low-level offenders

By Douglas Buell

dbuell@arlingtontimes.com

ARLINGTON – City officials are exploring a diversion program that would help chronic low-level offenders caught in the revolving door of justice as an alternative to jail time.

Called Community Court, the program is aimed at repeat offenders charged with “quality of life” crimes, such as trespassing, loitering, camping, drug paraphernalia and petty theft.

Those crimes are most-often linked with homelessness. Instead of punishment, the court would provide offenders with access to social services that would help them get lives back on track.

Arlington Police Chief Jonathan Ventura and a team of legal and social service experts recently toured Spokane’s Community Court, an award-winning model that bears many similarities to Arlington’s situation.

“I came back with a new appreciation for the concept,” Ventura said. “I would like to see if there’s a way we can plant the seed here in Snohomish County. The concept is great.”

In speaking with the judge, prosecutors, defense attorneys and others involved in Spokane’s court, they said the program has been effective as a way to address homelessness while reducing jail costs that local governments grapple with due to repeat low-level criminal offenders filling up bed space that should be reserved for more-hardened criminals.

“We’re sentencing these individuals to life in prison twenty days at a time,” Ventura said. “We need to do better than that.”

Attorney Christine Frausto works for Feldman &Lee in Marysville. The criminal law firm provides contracted public defender services in Marysville Municipal Court for Marysville, Arlington and Lake Stevens. She has been a leading voice with a team of law, justice and social service agencies seeking to establish a Community Court in the north county.

The way the court would work, a potential offender would be referred either by police or through parties in court. Instead of hearing the case in court, it would be held in a room at a community center, library or other less-intimidating facility, Frausto said.

Another room would be set up next door, with social service partners and case monitoring available to help defendants gain access to services ranging from housing and treatment for drug addition, to the simple but necessary items like bus passes and personal identification.

A Stipulated Order of Continuance would be drawn up between the parties for up to 90 days indicating that if the defendant completes a series of conditions – including community service – the case would be dismissed.

If a defendant sticks to the agreement – committing no new crimes, using recommended services, showing up for progress updates and doing community service, the case would be dismissed.

Frausto said community service is a key component.

“The idea is if you feel pride in your community, you’ll feel more committed to keeping it looking nice,” Frausto said.

Investigator Daniel Blue with Feldman Lee cited the example of a worker who was performing his community service picking up litter. When the man finished, he made the connection between littering and the trash he left behind when he was involved in drug activity.

Blue said Spokane has a 68 percent dismissal rate among those who completed their court agreement.

In addition to helping offenders, Community Court can also reduce jail and inmate medical costs, while reducing court caseloads and the frequency of repeat offenses, Frausto said.

Ventura said Arlington has 400 active arrest warrants, high for a city its size. Most of those warrants are for low-level offenses. “We can take all those warrants, put them under one umbrella, and do what we can do to get those offenders out of the cycle,” he said.

Ventura said that jail costs can run up to as much as $200 a day in the Marysville and Snohomish County jails that Arlington uses.

Money to fund a Community Court is an issue, Blue said. He and Frausto would like to see the court started as a pilot project while they seek out grant funding from the federal Justice Department or other agencies.

But, Blue added, “It’s a human issue, too, something that’s going to get worse if it isn’t addressed.”

He said the concept is still early in the process, so Community Court would not likely get underway until at least next summer.

Frausto and Blue will give a presentation about the benefits of the court at the Arlington City Council meeting Nov. 14.

More in News

Inslee: Stay home for 2 weeks

By Jerry Cornfield and Zachariah Bryan The Herald OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay… Continue reading

Fences have been put up around Marysville playgrounds to keep kids off. (Steve Powell/Staff Photos)
Marysville leaders concerned as (almost) everything’s closing

By Steve Powell spowell@marysvilleglobe.com MARYSVILLE – Within hours of Gov. Jay Inslee’s… Continue reading

Briefly

Beware of coronavirus scams SEATTLE – U.S. Attorney Brian T. Moran is… Continue reading

Jennifer Thompson, left, and her father Ron Thompson secure a new remembrance plaque to the Oso slide site gate on Sunday, near Oso. Ron Thompson handcrafts a new plaque for the gate every year. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Community remembers Oso slide victims, survivors

By Ben Watanabe The Herald OSO — The power of remembering the… Continue reading

People gather to pick up special allergy meals before leaving Lakewood High School on Wednesday in Marysville. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Districts taking meals to students since schools are closed

By Stephanie Davey The Herald LAKEWOOD — Children wearing pajamas stood outside… Continue reading

Jon Nehring
Letter about coronavirus from Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring

This is an edited version of a letter Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring… Continue reading

DOUGLAS BUell/Staff Photos
                                Lead cook Keina Gowins with Presidents Elementary hands out free grab-and-go breakfasts and lunches to students and parents outside the school Wednesday. Presidents and AHS serve as central kitchen sites for preparing meals, which starting next week will expand to 12 delivery sites from Silvana to Oso. Right, Arlington Food Bank executive director Carla Gastineau and Mike Simpson, food bank board president and owner of Arlington Grocery Outlet, partnered with the district with their Meals Til Monday program, and gave a woman a box of donated food while at Presidents.
Arlington students won’t go hungry during the COVID-19 school closures

ARLINGTON – Arlington schools are closed through April 24 to help fight… Continue reading

Scott Beebe hands out Chromebooks to people in their cars. (Steve Powell/Staff Photos)
Marysville parents anxious to pick up school materials for kids

By Steve Powell spowell@marysvilleglobe.com MARYSVILLE – A few days ago Marysville schools… Continue reading

Jon Nehring
Marysville leaders’ trip to D.C. productive

MARYSVILLE – City leaders recently obtained advice on how to get more… Continue reading

Crews will blow garbage into the street and sweep it up over the next few weeks. The city is asking people to move their cars, trash cans and recycle bins when they come around to help them do a thorough job. (Courtesy Photo)
Marysville shuffles workers due to virus, seeks public’s help for sweepers next week

By Steve Powell spowell@marysvilleglobe. MARYSVILLE – From working from home to teleconferencing… Continue reading

City of Arlington carries out operational changes to encourage social distancing

ARLINGTON – The city has made a series of operational changes in… Continue reading