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September 16, 2014

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The impact of specialty courts: ‘I’ve seen girls go from prostitution to college’

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Steve Marcus

Kimberly Landrum gets a hug from Las Vegas Municipal Court Judge Cynthia Leung as she graduates from WIN (Women in Need), a city of Las Vegas specialty court, in 2010.

Every day in the valley, thousands of people facing criminal prosecution are shepherded into special courtrooms where judges aim to transform their troubled lives.

These specialty courts target some of the community’s most needy and neglected — impoverished veterans, habitual criminals, drug addicts and prostitutes.

Judges typically dole out lighter sentences in return for defendants’ promises to finish mandatory rehabilitation programs and meet other criteria.

“A lot of these people, they don’t know that there is another option. They don’t believe other options and opportunities exist,” said Beverly Golston, who oversees alternative sentencing and education programs for Las Vegas Municipal Court. The city recently launched a specialty court targeting veterans who have succumbed to homelessness or drug abuse, joining other jurisdictions across the valley that offer standardized courts for vets.

“I’ve seen girls go from prostitution to college. Some folks who were homeless are buying their first house. I saw a lady come to one of our graduations who finally saw her dad sober,” Golston said. “We’re very proud.”

Here’s a glimpse at some specialty courts:

Nevada’s Specialty Courts

The term “specialty court” can be very broadly defined to include different criminal and civil courts that have been established to deal with specific types of cases. Some specialize in business lawsuits and complex civil litigation; others, veteran offenders.

In Nevada, the term is legally defined as “a program established by a court to facilitate testing, treatment and oversight of certain persons over whom the court has jurisdiction and who the court has determined suffers from a mental illness or abuses alcohol or drugs.”

The Silver State has more than 40 urban and rural specialty court programs.

At Clark County District Court:

• Adult Criminal Drug Court, for felony cases.

• Child Support Drug Court, for non-custodial parents accused of failing to make child support payments.

• Dependency Drug Court, for parents accused of abusing or neglecting their children.

• Dependency Mothers Drug Court, for women who have custody issues due to substance addiction.

• Juvenile Court, for minors.

• Mental Health Court, for non-violent offenders with mental illnesses.

• Prison Re-entry Drug Court, for non-violent prison inmates within two years of probable release.

• Veterans’ Specialty Court, for non-violent veterans.

At Henderson Municipal Court:

• Assistance in Breaking the Cycle Court (ABC), for repeat offenders who need help treating substance abuse and mental health issues.

• Veterans Court, typically for veterans who are first-time offenders who have issues related to their military background.

At Las Vegas Municipal Court:

• DUI Court, for offenders facing driving under the influence charges with a high blood-alcohol content who need supervision and counseling. Also, for people with repeat DUI convictions or an addiction to alcohol or controlled substances.

• Habitual Offender Prevention & Education Court (HOPE), for people who are regularly arrested – typically the chronically homeless.

• Veterans Specialty Court, for veterans struggling with drug abuse or poverty.

• Women In Need Court (WIN), for women with a history of prostitution who may need trauma and mental health treatment.

• Youth Offender Court (YO), for people ages 18-24 who are engaging in risky behavior.

At Las Vegas Township Justice Court:

• Las Vegas Township Justice Court DUI Courts (2), for people facing impaired driving charges.

• Las Vegas Township Justice Court Drug Court, for offenders who need drug counseling.

At North Las Vegas Municipal Court:

• Drug Court, for offenders who need drug counseling.

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