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THURSDAY, MARCH 18, 1999202/307-0703


$225,000 Will Allow County to Intervene with Misdemeanor Offenders

WASHINGTON, D.C.--The Palm Beach County Criminal Justice Commission will use a Justice Department grant to take a closer look at offenders who commit nonviolent misdemeanor crimes and assess their human and social service needs. The grant will allow the county to focus on quality of life offenses that contribute to neighborhood deterioration and keep these offenders from future involvement with the criminal justice system.

This is one of six grants being made by the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), a component of the Office of Justice Programs (OJP), under a special discretionary grant program designed to expand the use of community courts. BJA received 80 proposals in response to its community courts solicitation.

"Community Courts allow judges to use resources outside the criminal justice system and sanctions other than incarceration to intervene and keep offenders from committing additional crimes," said BJA Director Nancy Gist. "Many offenders who serve a short jail sentence or receive probation for a minor offense commit a similar offense and wind up right back in court. Community courts get offenders out of this cycle."

Community courts are part of the broader philosophy of community justice, which promotes the idea of communities and the criminal justice system coming together improve public safety. The Office of Justice Programs (OJP) is actively involved in promoting the philosophy of community justice and funding innovative community justice initiatives.

"Each crime that is committed tears the fibers of a community," said OJP Assistant Attorney General Laurie Robinson. "Community justice fundamentally changes the way we think about the criminal justice system and community participation and our traditional approaches to public safety. It gives the community a voice and the opportunity to undo the damage a crime causes, ultimately making neighborhoods safer and stronger."

BJA currently funds Manhattan, New York's Midtown Community Court, which was the country's first community court, established in 1993. In its first two and a half years, the Midtown court arraigned over 26,000 defendants. Nearly 75 percent of the offenders sentenced were ordered to perform community service and/or enroll in social services. During this period, over 10,000 Midtown community court participants completed community service producing over $430,000 worth of labor.

The other communities receiving grants include the Connecticut Superior Court in Hartford, Connecticut; the Maryland State Attorney's Office in Baltimore, Maryland; the Center District Court in Philadelphia; the City Attorney's Office in San Diego, California; and the Multnomah County District Attorney's Office in Portland, Oregon.

BJA is involved in a partnership with the Center for Court Innovation in New York City to expand the use of community courts and provide technical assistance and information to jurisdictions interested in establishing community courts. For additional information on the Center for Court Innovation and community courts, visit the center's Internet website at:

For additional information about BJA and its programs, visit its Internet website at:

For information on the program in Palm Beach County, contact L. Diana Cunningham with the Palm Beach County Board of Commissioners at 561/355-2314.

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