This fall, Judge Rachel L. Bell and the General Sessions Music City Community Court, Division VIII will launch C.A.R.E. (Creating Avenues for Restoration & Empowerment) in partnership with the Tennessee Supreme Court Administrative Office of Courts. Last year, Judge Bell was working to establish C.A.R.E. as a pilot program for ex-offenders, however she realized quickly that oversight and mandated requirements are extremely hard to monitor for ex-offenders and needed to refocus the efforts and resources to a group desperately in need.
The Tennessee Supreme Court Administrative Office of Courts (AOC) on behalf of the General Sessions Music City Community Court was one of five applicants nationwide selected by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, in partnership with the Center for Court Innovation, as a 2018 Community Court Grant Program winner. As a selected site, the AOC in partnership with the General Sessions Music City Community Court will receive $200,000 and technical assistance from the Center for Court Innovation to implement a community court that will serve offenders aged 18-26, named C.A.R.E.
Community courts respond to lower level crimes by ordering individuals to pay back the communities they’ve harmed through visible community service projects, while simultaneously addressing the underlying issues fueling criminal behavior, such as drug and alcohol treatment, mental health services, and job training. Nationally, research has shown that the community court model can reduce crime and substance use, increase services to victims, reduce unnecessary use of jail, save money, and improve public confidence in justice.
The AOC, together with the Tennessee Supreme Court Access to Justice Commission and the Tennessee Faith and Justice Alliance, have been developing and promoting expungement legal clinics over the past three years, using the model developed by Judge Rachel L. Bell and her team.
“While the Access to Justice Initiative generally focuses on civil legal issues, we recognize that many times those issues may be related to a criminal matter,” said Gail Ashworth, Chairperson of the ATJ Commission. “We are excited about working with the General Sessions Music City Community Court to launch the C.A.R.E. diversionary program, and the opportunity to expand our support of access to the judicial system for all Tennesseans.”
C.A.R.E. will be the first of its kind in Nashville and will help provide those aged 18-26 with individualized justice, case management, restoration/rehabilitation along with community healing and restitution. General Sessions Music City Community Court.
“The Restorative Justice concept that we would like to focus on will emphasize the ways that crime harms relationships in the community and brings together the people most impacted by the crime to resolve it. It will be based on a model similar to Cook County’s new Restorative Justice Community Court in Illinois,” said Presiding Judge Rachel L. Bell.
“The C.A.R.E. model will ensure that offenders take accountability for their actions and then work to repair the harm through restitution when needed, community service, letters of apology, and peace circles. It is exciting to have the full support of the Nashville Public Defender and District Attorney General. I am very certain with the C.A.R.E. diversionary program in place this will lead to a healthier community, a brighter future for young offenders and lesser crime here in Davidson County, Nashville, TN.”
“One of the core values of the Nashville Defender’s Office is to support restorative justice efforts in the Davidson County community,” said Martesha L. Johnson, Nashville Public Defender. “It is time that we create innovative options that provide opportunities to end the cycle of incarceration and increase avenues for restoration and rehabilitation. We support the mission of the C.A.R.E. court mission to divert young adults from the jail population and give them the tools to succeed in the community. Our goal here is to make sure these individuals truly understand the impact their crimes have had on victims and the community as a whole.”
“This program offers alternatives to individuals who are truly remorseful and desire a second chance to serve the community in a positive manner, said Glenn Funk, Nashville District Attorney General.
The General Sessions Music City Community Court was started in 2012. Since its inception, the court has piloted several community initiatives for preventative and diversionary justice focused on the concept that ‘justice does not stop at the courthouse steps.’ It uses its access to power and resources to move the needle for marginalized people with the mission to do all it can to help break the playground (school) to prison pipeline and restore/rehabilitate lives.
For more information about the General Sessions Music City Community Court visit <gscourt.nashville.gov/about-us/judges/division-viii-judge-rachel-l-bell/> or for the community court model visit <www.courtinnovation.org/topic/community-court>.