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Seattle Municipal Court Judges Agree to Seattle City Attorney’s Proposed Changes to Seattle Community Court

The Seattle Municipal Court judges, in an effort to work collaboratively, have agreed to the Seattle City Attorney’s proposed changes to Seattle Community Court. The City Attorney requested that certain individuals they have identified as ‘high utilizers’ be excluded from participating in the program. The Community Court agreement already provided the judges with discretion to screen defendants out of Community Court. The changes approved last week will allow the City Attorney to decline to refer a case to Community Court even if it is technically eligible.

Seattle Community Court was launched in August 2020 to assist individuals booked into jail on low level misdemeanor charges through access to services in the community instead of sitting in jail waiting for a court date. The court intended to accomplish this through a series of “warm handoffs” from the jail to the court’s pre-trial services unit who can connect individuals to services utilizing the Community Resource Center.

As a pandemic response, the King County Jail implemented booking restrictions, and individuals accused of low-level crimes are no longer booked into the jail. Instead, they are cited by the police and then released, many times without a future court date. When a court date is set for these cases, many cannot be reached by mail because of housing insecurity, mental health issues, and substance abuse issues; all issues that Community Court was meant to address.

The Seattle Municipal Court shares the City Attorney’s goal of addressing the root causes that lead people to be frequent utilizers of the court system. The court proposes a workgroup with representatives from the City Attorney’s Office, the King County Department of Public Defense, and other stakeholders to explore how best to ensure this population stays engaged in their court case while also helping connect them to services and supports to address underlying behavioral health concerns.