WILMINGTON – Members of city council called on Delaware Chief Justice Leo Strine to establish a community court in Wilmington, modeled after those in New York City and Newark, New Jersey.
Councilman Darius Brown said he and others have been pushing for the new lower court to be created for the last three years, but the proposal has not advanced.
“We need to attempt to harness the power of the justice system to address local problems as we have worked to established community policing with law enforcement officers,” Brown said.
Brown could not explain why the project has not advanced, saying he is hoping to meet with Strine in the coming weeks to get a better idea of what it will take to implement the court, aimed at providing social service programs to low level offenders instead of traditional fines or sentences.
“The goal of community court is to reduce recidivism without compromising public safety and to help non-violent offenders work towards a more successful and productive future.”
Mark Hitch, a court administrator, said Strine is committed to justice reinvestment in the city of Wilmington and is examining the feasibility of having a community court in a way that would benefit all city residents, not just one neighborhood near the court building.
“The first goal is we have to have a location,” Hitch said, adding that Strine is looking at the issues of racial disparities that exist int he state criminal justice system which is being examined by the Access of Justice Commission.
Hitch said the judiciary has looked at a few locations to move Justice of the Peace Court #20 into a new location with a community court. One of those possible locations is in Brown’s district, but Hitch said there are concerns that moving the court from its location in the Wilmington Public Safety Building downtown to the northeast section of the city will impact the accessibility of the court to all residents.
“(Strine) just wants to make sure that we examine all possibilities before jumping in,” Hitch said.
The court also has support from the community, said Jaehn Dennis, president of the Vandever Avenue Civic Association, who has assisted council members in the push for the court. Dennis said he saw how the system worked when visiting the community court in Newark, New Jersey.
“They have a solution,” Dennis said. “That is a solution that we need right here in the city of Wilmington.”
“Our young people in our community cannot afford to wait any longer,” said Councilman Justen Wright.
“Community courts have predominantly improved quality of life concerns, helped mitigate and curb the negative ethos painted by news media and reinstate a sense of community and worth,” Wright said.
Brown urged residents to contact Strine’s office to express their opinion about the courts in hopes that the action will urge him to hasten the process.
Contact Jenna Pizzi at firstname.lastname@example.org or (302) 324-2837. Follow her on Twitter @JennaPizzi.