Archive for October 12th, 2012

by lizard

Last December, Kathleen Jenks replaced Donald Let ‘Em Go Louden as head judge for Missoula’s Municipal Court. Now, instead of a judge with an appropriate street handle for being notoriously lenient, we have a judge with a last name that’s become a sort of verb to those facing a more vigorous degree of accountability for their actions—getting Jenks’d.

More accountability for repeat offenders is welcomed by some, and not necessarily seen by this blogger as being a net negative.

But not every repeat offender is effectively dealt with through purely punitive measures.

Fortunately, Missoula has been at the innovative forefront with treatment courts, or co-occurring courts.

Unfortunately, that effort got recently Jenks’d.

Missoula Municipal Court no longer refers offenders to treatment courts designed to help people with substance abuse and mental health issues get their lives back on track before their behavior gets too out of control.

Municipal Court Judge Kathleen Jenks said she made the decision a couple of months ago after realizing that only a single person from Municipal Court was assigned to the last session of the treatment court, formally known as Missoula Co-Occurring Treatment Court.

Among other issues, Jenks said, the city just doesn’t have the resources to devote that much time and money to one person.

“It’s like the Cadillac” of court systems, she said, lauding the goals of treatment courts. “But I don’t know that we can right now, given our volume, afford the Cadillac.”

In response, a recent Missoulian editorial put it like this:

Calling the Missoula Co-Occurring Treatment Court a “Cadillac” option, Jenks explained in a Missoulian news story last Sunday that the city doesn’t have the resources to devote to such a small number of offenders.

These are for the most part non-violent offenders who have agreed to follow a detailed plan to receive a reduced or deferred sentence. These are people whose run-ins with the law stem from their struggles with substance abuse or mental illness. These are people who, given the right kind of help regaining control over their lives, will not commit the same offenses again.

So it’s a matter of devoting sufficient resources now to prevent recurring offenses – or devoting them on an exponential scale in the future. Drug courts, veterans courts and mental health courts will not be the best option for every offender – that doesn’t mean they should be eliminated as options altogether.

I whole-heartedly agree. And so does Theresa Conley, who coordinated the treatment courts until this year. Yesterday, her op-ed was published in the Missoulian. You can read it in full, below the fold. Continue Reading »

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