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How community volunteers can help some offenders stay out of jail
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Judge Kathlene Gosselin of the Hall County Superior Court addresses audience members during a WomenSource Power Lunch in Gainesville, on Oct. 26, 2017. The luncheon featured panelists who are experts in accountability courts and individuals they have helped. Officials have renewed their call for volunteers to aid the program. - photo by David Barnes

Accountability court programs can keep people accused of certain crimes out of jail. 

The programs, such as Drug and DUI courts, work for a solution other than incarceration for people who have been charged with criminal offenses. The goal is to treat the underlying issues -- often with mental health or substance abuse -- that led to these crimes. 

Participation can also lower the likelihood of repeat offenses. 

A 2018 report developed by the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government showed a lower recidivism rate for accountability court graduates compared to those who left the program or did not participate at all. But “any amount of participation in an accountability court, regardless of completion, leads to lower recidivism,” according to the report published by the Council of Accountability Court Judges. 

Volunteers are essential to helping participants stick with the program 

Recidivism rates for accountability court program graduates

Drug Court: 27% 

Mental Health Court: 32% 

Veterans Treatment Court: 19% 

DUI Court: 21% 

Family Treatment Court: 12% 

Source: 2018 Council of Accountability Court Judges report 

Recidivism rates for probationers who did not enter an accountability court program: 

Drug Court: 54% 

Mental Health Court: 49% 

Veterans Treatment Court: 46% 

DUI Court: 39% 

Family Treatment Court: Not available 

Source: 2018 Council of Accountability Court Judges report 

The Newtown Florist Club recently hosted two open-air conversations amid growing nationwide scrutiny on law enforcement and the judiciary. When addressing the community at one of those meetings July 2, Chief Superior Court Judge Kathlene Gosselin discussed the need for the volunteers, who can help in a variety of ways.  

Whether its offering someone a ride, one military veteran mentoring another in Veterans Court, or helping celebrate graduation, the volunteers play a key role. 

Superior Court Judge Clint Bearden said child care and transportation can be critical to someone following through on the program’s requirements. 

“Unfortunately, I’m surprised by the number of participants that just don’t have reliable transportation that would make their lives so much easier if they did have the transportation to get them to and from their classes, to be able to get them to and from their (drug) screens and to their counseling sessions,” Bearden said. 

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Judge Clint Bearden

Volunteers are also needed for tutoring and skills training. The needs ebb and flow based on the programs’ participants, Bearden said. 

For example, in Drug Court, participants without a high school education are pushed to finish their GED, Bearden said. 

“We have folks that may need some assistance with tutoring. Right now with COVID, that’s something that has been challenging because there’s been some difficulties of some of the normal in-person options,” he said. 

Other programs include Family Treatment Court, Parental Accountability Court and Health Empowerment Linkage and Possibilities Court, which works on mental health. 

Beyond the more essential aid like child care and transportation, Jessi Emmett, director of treatment services for Hall County courts, said they are always looking to teach participants about other ancillary skills.

“We’ve had folks in the financial community and banking community in the past that have come in and taught simple, basic budgeting skills, which has been extremely helpful to some of our participants especially our young adults,” Emmett said. 

There is also a nonprofit associated with the programs called Friends of Recovery, which helps with fundraising and other events. 

For example, one accountability court participant lost his home in a fire, so the organization paid for short-term shelter, Emmett said. 

Upon completion of a program there is a graduation. 

“We’re always looking for volunteers that want to help with graduation ceremonies. That looks a little different right now with COVID, because in the past, we would try to make a really big deal out of graduation and make those ceremonies special,” she said. 

Graduation ceremonies recently have been held over video-conferencing applications. 

Those interested in volunteering can contact Emmett at 770-536-3837 or jemmett@hallcounty.org

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