Aberdeen Community Court graduates 100th participant

Aberdeen Community Court, the city’s therapeutic court implemented in early 2017 to reduce crime, recidivism and jail costs, graduated its 100th participant on Sept. 9.

“Over the past 2½ years, the Community Court has diligently been reaching out to individuals in the system who express a desire to change behavior but struggle to achieve this on their own,” said Aberdeen Municipal Court Judge Susan Solan. “The Community Court graduates have been inspirational in the goals they have been able to achieve to improve themselves and the community, whether it be sustaining sobriety, enrolling in college or finding stable and rewarding employment.”

Community Court is designed to provide an alternate to jail time for those charged with misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor crimes, who previously didn’t have the diversion options available to first-time offenders. Prosecuting attorneys find potentially eligible offenders and forward them to the public defender’s office. At the offender’s first court date, the program is explained to the offender, and it is then up to the offender to decide if they are willing to meet the demands of the program.

Solan said, based on the number of charges before and after entering Community Court, the program currently reduces recidivism — the tendancy of a convicted individual to reoffend — by 81%. According to the court, the diversion of these cases has saved the City $76,250 in public defender costs, and more than $175,000 in jail and public defender costs.

Participants in Community Court must form an action plan, which details all the requirements for completing the program. If the plan is followed, completed and the participant graduates, the initial charges they faced before entry will either be reduced or altogether dropped.

All participants are required to perform community service or pay the monetary equivalent, said Solan. To date, participants have performed a total of more than 900 community service hours — valued at more than $10,000.

One of the biggest challenges facing the court is offering the program to the large number of defendants who benefit from it, said Solan. To try to keep up with demand, a second caseworker was added in 2018.

“It is the intensive case management provided by these caseworkers, along with regular court reviews, which optimizes success for the participants,” said Solan.

Aberdeen Community Court is supported by a variety of local social service agencies which gather weekly at the services entry event to offer participants, and any community member who attends, a wide array of services to address hunger, homelessness, unemployment, mental illness, substance use and other needs. The services entry event is held on Thursdays from 1:30-3 p.m. at the CCAP building.

Community Court is held on Mondays at 2:30 p.m. at the Aberdeen Courthouse.