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Medford asks how to make justice work better

City asks people to fill out survey to help shape future Community Court

The city of Medford is asking residents what they think about a variety of local crime and justice issues.

Graduates of Drug Court are greeted with applause at Jackson County Circut Court. File photo

A survey on the city’s website will provide information that will help city officials determine how a community court program would best fit within the existing Municipal Court system.

It would have a similar place in the city’s Municipal Court system as alternative courts do within the Jackson County Circuit Court system, where programs such as the Wellness and Recovery Opportunity courts exist.

“We don’t know what it looks like yet,” said Katie Zerkel, deputy city attorney for Medford, who has spearheaded the project.

Hope is that the survey will shed some light on what residents consider high priority concerns, Zerkel noted.

Among questions included in the survey is how respondents characterize the relationship between Medford police and the Medford community, whether they have heard of the Medford police Livability Team, and how they feel about the concept of a community court.

The court question includes a broad description about how such programs work. Community courts rely on local resources to assist defendants with legal issues and find solutions for individual defendants.

The goal is to help prevent these people from having future entanglement in the judicial system for those same problems while also strengthening “community trust in the justice system,” the survey states.

It also asks respondents if they believe “connecting offenders with services, in addition to punishment, can break the cycle of re-offending?”

People taking the survey are asked to define how safe or unsafe they feel walking on the street in Medford during the day and at night, as well as whether the respondent has been a victim of a crime in the past year.

It also asks people taking the survey to prioritize how much of a problem certain issues are, such as theft, homelessness, disorderly conduct, abandoned property, vandalism, graffiti, public drinking and drug use.

Medford City Council allocated $50,000 last June from its Vision Fund for the city to contract with the Center for Court Innovation.

The center will provide training and technical assistance to develop a community court pilot project. The program would address the needs of defendants as well as those of the community itself.

Among initial suggestions has been to place such a program at the city’s Navigation Center.

Zerkel noted that such a program could help assist the large number of court defendants who have mental health challenges.

Part of the process has been to look at similar programs in other communities. Tailoring such a program to fit local needs is essential.

“Eugene has a great program,” Zerkel said. “But we’re not Eugene.”

The last day to take the survey is Friday. It’s available in English and Spanish.

To take the survey, go to medfordoregon.gov/Home, then scroll down and click on the tab titled “Latest News.”

Results of the survey will be made public later in the year. There is no timeline for starting the program, Zerkel added.

Reach reporter Terri Harber at tharber@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4468.