All City of Boulder administrative facilities, public libraries and Age Well Centers will be closed Monday, May 29, for the Memorial Day holiday. Some facilities and services will be open.
Community courts are specialty courts that use a combined strategy of holding participants accountable while connecting them to social services to help address the root causes of crime. Boulder’s community court takes an individual and trauma-informed approach rather than the traditional punitive approach typically seen in the criminal justice system.
These types of cases are most often seen amongst the unhoused. Serious violations are never addressed in community court.
We measure outcomes by the number of people we help. The majority of people that end up in this court are experiencing homelessness. The root cause of camping, trespass, and other similar tickets is that people do not have a place to call home. By helping people move towards long term solutions we get them out of the criminal justice system and thus increase community livability.
In the criminal justice system, the temptation is always to look at recidivism as a measure of success. What makes more sense is to look at what individual court participants accomplish, such as obtaining substance use treatment, acquiring a photo ID and social security card, or making other steps toward housing and self-sufficiency.
The citations that bring them to court serve as an opportunity to get participants engaged. Sanctions are aimed at resolving a person’s unhoused status and are tailored to each individual’s needs. Sometimes the person needs something simple like help replacing a state identification card, and sometimes it can be something complex like getting a person ready for housing. Often, their actions result in dismissal of the charge(s).
From Oct. 1, 2020 – Dec. 31, 2021, 144 people with 504 cases were seen in community court. Over 525 tasks or sanctions were ordered, and 454 of those were completed, which amounts to a completion rate in excess of 86%. In some cases, these assignments are completed at court. BUT prior to community court, sanctions such as traditional community service were completed less than 10% of the time and often landed individuals in jail, which did not address the root cause of the original crime.
For the unhoused community as whole, success means the criminal and human services systems are working together in a seamless way. When we can address the underlying issues causing homelessness, then we are going to have a safer community.
We started as a mobile court instead of an indoor court. But it was a blessing because mobile court reaches people where they are, utilizing a pop-up court model. Partner agencies were less available during COVID-19, and usually only virtually, but ordering documents such as medical records, social security cards and identification cards could be done electronically rather than in person.