I was fortunate to be a part of the first session of Community Outreach Court in Grand Rapids, MI. What is Community Outreach Court? It’s the brainchild of the Heartside Neighborhood Collaboration Project and Judge Donald Passenger of the 61st District Court (as well as his outstanding staff and other leaders of the GR community) wherein a courtroom is set up at Mel Trotter Ministries, staffed by actual court personnel, probation officers. volunteer workers from various local agencies and volunteer attorneys. Neighbors with legal issues are paired with advocates from these agencies to come up with a plan to tackle whatever legal quandary they are facing. If they work the plan, positive results can happen, like reduced or eliminated fines and court costs, records cleared, warrants waived, etc. At the first session of Community Outreach Court on March 19, 2014, the wonderful Mary Alice Walker, Advocacy Coordinator, presented the first and only candidate with a plan in place which had already had a positive impact for this individual. After listening closely, Judge Passenger said, “People think we get our thrills putting people in prison. We don’t. We consider that a failure. It’s our goal that interactions with the court will help people become more whole and productive members of society. We believe this program will help that.”
Many thanks to the Heartside Neighborhood Collaboration Project for bringing everyone in the community together to make this happen!