King County District Court and the City of Burien announced this week that they are collaborating to implement a “community court” in Burien, with the first gavel set to drop on Monday, Feb. 25, 2019.
The alternative, problem-solving court will differ from traditional courts by seeking to identify and address the underlying challenges of court participants that may contribute to further criminal activity.
This new program is fully funded by King County, and has been under discussion by the Burien City Council since Oct., 2018.
“The specific problem of repeatedly cycling through the criminal justice system non-violent misdemeanants who experience mental health issues, substance abuse issues, and extreme poverty,” the city said in an Oct. 8 agenda bill. “For these individuals, the criminal justice system – the intent of which is to punish and deter criminal behavior – isn’t working.”
The new Community Court will be held in the Burien Community Center’s Shorewood Room.
“Holding court hearings in a safe, neutral and community-centered location, such as the community center, encourages the participants to stay engaged and removes the stigma associated with the courthouse,” said Callista Welbaum, therapeutic courts manager for King County District Court.
A community resource center co-located with Community Court in Burien will connect court participants – and anyone else in the community – to outside services that will give them a chance to have a better outcome. The resource center will include community partners that provide a wide array of services, such as healthcare/insurance, education, job training, behavioral health, substance use disorder help, and more.
“This program is one of several new strategies we are deploying in Burien to strengthen the safety of our community and serve our most vulnerable populations with effective alternatives to the traditional criminal justice system,” said Burien Chief of Police Theodore Boe. “This program is not a substitute for accountability, but rather an enhancement to the tools we have to address the causes of criminal behavior.”
Community court participants are charged with misdemeanor crimes such as urinating in public, sleeping in a park, theft, trespass or disorderly conduct. Driving-related cases are not currently eligible, and participants must not have any violent felony convictions in the last five years; any pending violent felony charges; or a sex offender history.
King County District Court Judge Laurel Gibson will hear cases at Community Court in Burien on Mondays, 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the Burien Community Center (14700 6th Ave SW). The community resource center will be open the same hours.
Community Court in Burien builds upon the successful spring 2018 launch of Community Court in Redmond, which to date has had 73 participants, with 32 “graduating” the program.
“My long-term vision is that everybody throughout the county will have access to community court and to resource centers with the services they need to stay out of the criminal justice system,” said Judge Donna Tucker, King County District Court Presiding Judge.
Community members who would like to volunteer in the community resource center for Community Court in Burien can contact Ericka Cooley, community court coordinator for King County District Court at (206) 477-4990 or emailÂ [email protected].