Las Vegas Sun

April 21, 2014

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Program helps repeat offenders break cycle

The Henderson Municipal Court has implemented a new sentencing program this year targeting repeat non-violent offenders, who are often homeless and suffering from drug and alcohol problems.

The Assistance in Breaking the Cycle Court was launched in April and matches offenders with a social worker to ease them into independent, sober living while improving their job and life skills.

So far, 11 people are enrolled in the program that Municipal Judge Douglas Hedger helped initiate after noticing a greater trend toward repeat offenders.

All of them have 12 or more cases in the system and one-quarter of them have mental health issues, Hedger said. Many of the charges include things like trespassing, public intoxication and possession of drug paraphernalia, Hedger said. Nearly all were homeless and suffering from alcohol and drug problems.

To avoid a six-month jail sentence, each person must complete the program, which can take up to two years.

The program has the ability to handle 20 to 25 people at a time. Funding is derived from grants through the Nevada Supreme Court.

Homelessness creates a domino effect for the slew of charges and fines the offenders face, he said.

“They’re ordered to do certain things,” he said. “They don’t do what they’re supposed to. They don’t have the money to pay for counseling.”

When an offender is first admitted to the program, a social worker gets the individuals into sober living housing, where they receive treatment. They also receive things like veterans benefits they often don’t know they have, Hedger said.

“A case manager walks them through getting an ID, getting job skills and doing other things they don’t know to do because they’ve been homeless so long,” Hedger said.

The first phase focuses on the individuals staying clean for periods of 30, 60 and 90 days as they attend group meetings and maintain daily contact with social workers. The second phase encompasses finding employment and embarking on job searches. The Henderson Chamber of Commerce has businesses willing to hire them because of the court supervision, he said.

The third phase moves the participants toward establishing a savings account and being independent. Phase Four aims to wean the participants from the program and place them in independent housing.

“When a person completes all four phases, we’ll have a graduation,” Hedger said.

Currently, the program has individuals in Phase One and Phase Two.

Recently, Hedger said, a woman in the program received a driver’s license for the first time in years. Her problems were like others in the program: She could not afford to pay her fines, resulting in her license being revoked.

“With the assistance of a social worker, she’s working,” Hedger said. “The whole process can seem overwhelming to someone who’s in and out of the system.”

Dave Clark can be reached at 990-2677 or [email protected].

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