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A few weeks ago, D.C. Superior Court and the D.C. Department of Corrections announced that they would be implementing a courthouse release program for defendants ordered released in misdemeanor and traffic cases. This is a huge deal especially considering the controversies over the jail’s inability to release people on time. The over-detentions have cost the city millions of dollars from one class-action lawsuit. Another class-action lawsuit is pending in District Court.
The Court’s press release states:
The Superior Court of the District of Columbia (“the Court”) and D.C. Department of Corrections (DOC) today announced the upcoming implementation of a pilot ‘courthouse release’ program to begin this summer. The new program will reduce the number of defendants who must return to the D.C. Jail at the end of each court day, solely to be processed out. This, in turn, will allow the DOC to focus on processing other defendants more promptly and releasing them earlier in the day.
The pilot project, designed and implemented with the participation of the D.C. Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (CJCC), will involve the release at the courthouse of those accused of misdemeanors and traffic offenses who are ordered released by a judge.
The problem of over-detentions has been an issue that never seems to go away. It has been a problem for more than a decade. Numerous studies have been done. But this seems like a real solution. No one knows more about this issue than William Claiborne, the attorney who has spent years investigating and litigating over-detention cases. He has lead on this issue, filing both class-action cases.
Says Claiborne of the courthouse release program: “It’s something we’ve been working for for a long time. We believe it should result in fewer over detentions and most importantly it obviates the need for people who’ve already been ordered released by a judge to have to go back to the jail and get strip searched.”
This past Monday, the Department of Mental Health announced that it was opening up an urgent-care clinic at Superior Court.
The release states: “The urgent care clinic will provide easy assess to mental health services primarily for individuals who appear in misdemeanor and traffic court who may show signs of mental illness, have been diagnosed as mentally ill, or show signs of both mental illness and a substance abuse disorders.”
Phyllis Jones, DMH‘s spokesperson, told me how it will work:
“People are referred to it by the judges,” she says. “It’s for people who ae involved in the court system—mainly misdemeanors or traffic…Sometimes [defendants] may have mental health issues and the clinic will be right there. They are going to be able to get meds. We will link them to a provider so they can have on-going care. It’s going to be managed by Psychiatric Institute of Washington. It could be [for] people that may have been already diagnosed….and maybe haven’t been seen for a while and we want to reconnect them with their mental-health provider.”
Update 4:36 p.m.: We failed to mention that the new clinic is a partnership between DMH and Superior Court. It is the latest in a series of partnerships that the D.C. Superior Court’s community-court program has forged with D.C. agencies including DOES, APRA, DPW as well as Unity Healthcare. Of this clinic, Leah Gurowitz, court spokesperson, says: “We are pleased with this additional program that will offer services and reduced recidivism.” For more info, check out the court’s joint release with DMH.