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Seattle City Attorney Ann Davison ends Community Court

Seattle is ending participation in the criminal justice system called Community Court.

City Attorney Ann Davison is ending the relationship due to questions about the court’s cost and effectiveness.

“With our office’s limited resources, it’s critical that we make data-driven decisions to invest in the most effective programs. Our data shows that pre-filing diversion is more effective compared to Community Court,” said Seattle City Attorney Ann Davison in a prepared statement. “Accountability is not just for defendants; it’s for our systems as well. When a city program isn’t working, it’s up to us to implement better alternatives.”

Instead, the office said they will use pre-filing diversion services, which works to provide some people that would normally go into the criminal justice system the opportunity to instead accept responsibility for their actions by providing a service to the community or engaging in positive social activities before any charges get filed.

The Community Court diversion project automatically placed misdemeanor offenders into the system instead of the criminal courts and immediately released offenders from custody.

Defendants can opt into the Community Court program, or go through the traditional justice system. The court was originally started in order to significantly address racial disproportionality in the criminal justice system as well as divert people from criminal charges that might not be as effective in reducing crime.

Davison said many Community Court cases took over a year to process without providing any meaningful intervention to prevent crimes.

According to statistics from the City Attorney’s Office, only 22% of participants ever completed the Community Court process and engaged with diversion services. The recidivism rate of Community Court for two years after the engagement was 52% compared to a recidivism rate with pre-filing diversion of 23% over the same span of time.

“The data over the past year is clear. Community Court takes far too long to engage individuals with services or resolve their cases. Furthermore, two-thirds of defendants did not show up to court in order to participate and receive those services,” said Natalie Walton-Anderson, Criminal Chief of the Seattle City Attorney’s Office. “I look forward to working with our partners such as CHOOSE 180, Urban League, and Unified Outreach to scale up our diversion alternatives.”

On June 12, no new cases will be referred to Community Court, and the “significant number” of cases pending in community court will be dismissed if filed before Jan. 1, 2022.