Seattle Municipal Court judges agree to exclude certain ‘high utilizer’ individuals from Community Court
The Seattle City Attorney requested that certain individuals originally identified as high utilizers will be excluded from participating in the program.
A high utilizer is an individual responsible for repeat criminal activity across the city of Seattle, according to City Attorney Ann Davison.
The Seattle Municipal Court judges, in an effort to work collaboratively, have agreed to Davison’s proposed changes to Seattle Community Court.
The City Attorney’s office launched the High Utilizer Initiative in March, which aimed to dramatically reduce the high utilizer’s public safety impacts by prioritizing their cases to ensure they have access to critical social safety programs.
The 118 initially identified people, according to Davison’s office, were charged with theft (1,019 charges), trespassing (589 charges), assault (409 charges), or weapons violations (101 charges).
The court strongly disagrees that the Community Court has not been effective in dealing with the high utilizer individuals. However, the court made this decision in the interest of preserving Community Court as an option to address many non-violent misdemeanor cases.
Seattle Community Court was launched in August 2020 to assist individuals booked 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 which 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 efficacy of the Community Court program as it was intended has therefore never been put to the test for the ‘high utilizer’ group identified by the City Attorney’s Office.