INDIANAPOLIS – The Indianapolis Community Court is growing to include a variety of free and low-cost social services that advocates claim combat crime more effectively than the traditional options.
Anyone living in and around the downtown area, who has committed a lower level offense, can stay out of jail if they plead guilty and participate in community service and some of the courts’ programs.
The court is based in Fountain Square.It is the only one of its kind in Indiana, and one of about 100 across the country.
“I wasn’t raised like that, and I said this is it,” said Gregory David, a court participant.
Michael Graves,another court participant, also mentioned a similar cycle that involved arrests and jail time for crimes like public intoxication.
Graves said he would get arrested several times a week before he completed the court program. He is also now sober.
“I was drunk in the morning, all day, and through the night,” said Graves.
“It’s really not cost-effective to continue to do the same crazy thing,” said Judge David Certo, Indianapolis Community Court Judge. “If you are addicted to alcohol, and you want to make a change, we want to be here to say, ‘we’ll help you.'”
After pleading guilty the court participants have to perform community service and a specialized combination of therapy, counseling, and group panels where they learn how their behavior has impacted their neighbors and even downtown tourism.
“We usually have between 2,200 and 2,500 defendants a year. We see a lot of public intoxication, trespassing, shoplifting and possession of paraphernalia,” said Judge Certo.
The growing number of free services on site include a food pantry that serves more than 200 people every two weeks.
Participants have access to it and other services as do their families and anyone else living in the area who is in need.
There are free coats available, free STD testing, and even free haircuts on occasion.
In the first nine months of 2013, 73 percent of the defendants who passed through the court saw their charges dismissed.
The most important criteria that must also be fulfilled is no arrests within 60 days of their plea.
“We know that when those people don’t get arrested again, we’re using our law enforcement resources and our court resources to focus on people who really are dangerous,” said Certo.
“I spend more time with my kids and my grandkids. I have been doing that on a regular basis, and I thank god for it everyday,” said Graves about the court.
The court receives $300,000 from Marion County each year. Grants pay the remaining operating costs, and partner organizations like the Salvation Army help pay for the services on-site.