'Street Court' helps hundreds clean up their records

Mar 17, 2016

'Street Court' helps hundreds clean up their records

By Tom Hillen | WoodTV8

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) -- A collaborative program between the 61st District Court and some Heartside ministries is helping people clean up their records by bringing court to them.

"It helps our folks who are homeless because some of them have those things on their records that are unresolved that can affect them as they try to move into housing or move into employment," said Reverend Leonard McElveen, the director of spiritual services at Mel Trotter.

It's called community outreach court or to some going through it -- "street court."

"Court generally address non-assaultive misdemeanor offensives," said 61st District Court Judge Michael Distel.

The outreach program is a collaborative effort between the 61st District Court, Mel Trotter Ministries, Degage Ministries, Heartside Ministries and Cooley Law School.

"A lot of folks are fearful of going down to the court because some of their experiences are not very good. They have gone to court and ended up in jail. Having the court come here has been a tremendous relief, it makes people a lot more open," McElveen said.

The misdemeanor offensive they deal with are often with repeat offenders.

"Those tend to be costly to enforce these offensives, cost the city and community resources and even some times incarceration that would otherwise be unnecessary. So the goal of the plan is to try and treat the underlying problem and in treating the underlying problem we hope to not see re-offending individuals," said Judge Distel.

Lee Reed says he was charged with disorderly conduct but didn't go to court to pay the fines because he couldn't afford them. As a result, a warrant was issued for him which then he says prevented him from being able to find work. That's when he heard about street court.

"I came in, they helped me take care of it the same day. They took the warrant off the same day, gave me time to work out a plan with the judge and have a good hearing at Mel Trotter," Reed said.

An advocate from one of the organizations involved works with the court's probation office to come up with an action plan. For Reed that involved anger management and attending AA meetings.

"If anybody got a warrant out there and it's holding them back from trying to get a job, they need to come here and give it a try, it works," said Reed.

Community outreach court meets at Mel Trotter usually once every other month. It's been around for a little more than a year and has helped hundreds of people clean up their records.

"This is an opportunity for them to get with us, and then we will help them work the fine off. The judge has been very, very good about trying to resolve things. So the cases many times will get worked off either here in our building or the work program with the court," McElveen said.

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