Las Vegas Sun

January 22, 2019

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New court program aimed at minor Strip crimes

Loitering. Trespassing. Solicitation. Pedestrian offenses.

Authorities say these infractions are common along the Las Vegas Strip, but reducing them has been difficult because offenders often fail to show up for court dates.

Meanwhile, the petty crimes — usually committed by locals suffering from homelessness, addiction or other health issues — continue.

That could change with the introduction of a community court program early next year, Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Bita Yeager said.

Las Vegas Justice Court recently received a $200,000 federal grant to implement the problem-solving court, which will pair offenders with appropriate social services. The U.S. Department of Justice, in partnership the Center for Court Innovation, awarded the grant to 10 cities nationwide.

“This is a win-win for our community,” Yeager told Clark County commissioners during a presentation this morning. “Not only are we addressing recidivism by linking social services to individuals, we are actually increasing our public safety.”

Yeager said she and a fellow judge routinely issue numerous bench warrants for people accused of minor crimes who don’t appear in court.

The defendants eventually wind up in court after being arrested on the warrants, but they typically receive credit for time served in jail, without getting help to address their underlying issues, she said.

Community court, she said, intends to first stabilize defendants to ensure they can address their legal problems and build a crime-free life. For instance, if a program participant is homeless and abusing drugs, the court will link the person with social services to address housing and addiction issues.

Officials estimate the community court in Las Vegas will handle 8,000 to 10,000 cases a year, based on Metro Police crime statistics for the Strip.

The Las Vegas Justice Court program will be modeled after New York City’s Midtown Community Court, which was created in the early 1990s amid rising crime. Now, more than 50 community courts operate around the world, Yeager said.

One of them is in North Las Vegas.

Two years ago, North Las Vegas launched its community court, which focuses on helping 18- to 25-year-old who have been charged with nonviolent crimes. The program includes job training, counseling, drug treatment and community service — all designed to curb recidivism and teach participants how to be self-sufficient.

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