ALBANY — A federal grant will help expand a program aimed at reducing the number of repeat offenders appearing in Albany Municipal Court.
The court’s program began as a pilot in March 2018 that was designed to explore alternative-sentencing options by identifying causes of recidivism and offering social-service and educational interventions when appropriate.
The goal was to establish a “pathway to self-sufficiency” instead of the stigma a criminal record brings.
“I’m excited,” Albany City Commissioner Chad Warbington said of the grant. “I think it’s really going to help out. I think in general we’ve got a big problem with recidivism.”
The City Commission agreed in December to accept the $400,000 grant from U.S. Department of Justice through its National Community Courts Site-based and Training Technical Assistance Initiative. The award to the Albany Works! Community Court was one of eight made in the country through the grant program in 2020.
There is no requirement for local matching funds for the grant.
Community courts are meant to address underlying issues that bring individuals into the court system, including substance abuse and behavioral health issues, and to reduce unnecessary incarceration. Some people find themselves in a cycle of not being able to pay fines on time or having other difficulties in dealing with the court system, Warbington said. A court date can mean missing work and lead to further financial issues, or the choice between going to work to support a family and skipping a court date.
“Sometimes it’s hard to get out of the hole,” he said. “It’s like a snowball effect for some people.”
Community courts also engage the assistance of members of the community in planning and operational procedures. One component of Albany’s plan could include “coaches” who can assist those sentenced to special conditions such as enrolling in a GED class. The coaches could help individuals find the right location on the Albany Technical College campus at the appointed time, for example.
“What has to happen, the community has to embrace this program along with the city,” City Commissioner Demetrius Young said. “You basically have to have some life coaches that come into the program and help (participants) get where they need to go. Just trying to get people through these programs is an extensive thing.
“I think this will help, especially with the impoverished communities we have. A lot of issues get compounded when you add poverty into the mix.”