Community Intervention Court now in session
Social services agencies team up to provide the homeless alternatives to jail time for misdemeanors
By Shane Cohn 12/13/2012
A weekly courtroom proceeding designed to help homeless chronic offenders get out of the legal system and into rehabilitation programs has officially kicked off in Ventura.
Designed after a similar Santa Barbara program known as Restorative Court, a coalition consisting of local social services agencies — Ventura County Behavioral Health, Ventura Police Department, Ventura city attorney and the county’s public defender’s office — spent a year finalizing the details of what they’re calling “Community Intervention Court.”
Every Wednesday now, homeless offenders arrested during the week for minor violations affiliated with being homeless — such as drunk in public or illegal lodging — will have a chance to enter a six-month rehabilitation program during the court proceedings. Typically, such violations clog up court calendars and strain police resources. If the offenders successfully navigate through their individualized rehab programs, all of the related pending charges will be dropped.
“The agencies involved discuss each person’s case before the open court and find the best plan about how we can keep them off the streets,” said Sgt. John Snowling, adding that the program requires no additional funding. “We take some of these people to jail two to three times a week. So if we get them to get sober, street officers can focus on more street criminals.”
During the first Community Intervention Court session on Wednesday, Dec. 5, in Ventura County Superior Court, one of four offenders opted into the program. He was released on his own recognizance, and Project Understanding drove him to a sober living house.
“Now it’s up to him. He either does his program or not,” said Rob Orth, executive director of Salvation Army. “If not, a bench warrant is issued because he is violating the terms of release. He may say he’s not up to it and just wants to go to jail.”
Many chronic offenders may not be ready for the program, or even be mentally stable enough to understand the program right away, said Orth. The Santa Barbara program took time, he said, but it’s being hailed as a success, as many are now off the streets and in temporary or permanent housing.
“We know people will try and they may fail a few times,” explained Orth. “It’s a continuum of two steps forward, one step back, but now we have the leverage of the court.”
Violent offenders are not eligible for the program.