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Franklin County opens Therapeutic District Courts bringing hope for success

December 14, 2023

By: Katherine Trowbridge


Therapeutic Courts are bringing hope for success to individuals all while reducing recidivism rates and the burden to taxpayers.

Judge Trinity Orosco has stood true to her word. When the Franklin County Graphic interviewed her during the 2022 election she shared her thoughts on Therapeutic Courts stating how Franklin County could benefit from these. She went on to state, “I would like to start with Mental Health, Veterans court and misdemeanor drug court.” She went on to express, “The continuous cycle of hospitalization, jail, court, and release is not solving the problem and often makes it worse. People tend to decompensate in jail and are often unable to break the cycle without support. To solve these problems, we need to have programs that help people, help themselves.”

In the spring/summer of 2023 Judge Orosco stood before the Franklin County Commissioners with a request to bring therapeutic court to Franklin County’s District Courts. Judge Orosco sought out and received $281,000 in grant funding to do just that. The grant funds, through the Washington State Administrative Office of the Courts, will have a focus on employees - covering salaries and benefits as well as recovery support, and treatment services for the clients. Dr. Alyssa Pearce was hired to serve as the therapeutic courts’ coordinator and case manager. Pearce is a clinical social worker with a doctorate in social work.

Orosco created quite a team that is working together including the defense attorney, prosecutors, and sheriff’s office (on the law enforcement side) to have a law enforcement liaison in place, as well as community services to provide support.

Therapeutic Courts offered within the Franklin County District Court are a new feature to the county and separate from court services contracted through Benton County in the Superior Court including Veterans Court and Drug Court.

Therapeutic Court includes a Mental Health Court and a Recovery Court (for those with substance abuse issues). These voluntary, specialized treatment-oriented courts re-frame the traditional legal process. The court provides an emphasis on accountability and intensive monitoring. Grant funds also have gone into customized software to monitor participants.

Orosco shared that the cost runs between $6,000 to $8,000 for treatment through the therapeutic court, while the jail and regular justice system costs are significantly higher. In reality, the court is saving the county money in more ways than one. Therapeutic courts are seeing great success as individuals get the help and support they need to move out of the system. Orosco stated, “They get the support to be successful. We’ve had great success and people can actually get out of the system. And that’s why we’re targeting the high risk, high need as well, because research shows that that’s the ideal population and to reduce recidivism and to make the biggest impact on the community.”

At this time, Franklin County is still contracting with Benton County for the Superior Court side of “drug court” ; however, Orosco said, “The ultimate goal is to have our own stand alone program here.” She added, “Benton County has been quite helpful.”

Juvenile Courts are a completely different set of sanctions and because they have a lot of diversion programs within juvenile courts, therapeutic courts are not seeking juvenile cases.

Individuals who qualify for the program will receive a full round of treatment that covers all aspects, as opposed to the general 28 day rehab center.

Judge Orosco has also worked to get a memorandum of understanding with the Merit Treatment Center in Pasco for treatment services.

Dr. Alyssa Pearce will assess the client’s needs and assist in getting them into the appropriate treatment agencies with consents to get reports to the court to make sure that they are complying with the terms of the program. Dr. Pearce has a screening program to make sure that the county is serving high risk, high need individuals. “Those individuals within the community who need our services the most…once screened into the program, then we’ll help them in getting to treatment with some of the community agencies here and getting them the recovery support that they need whether it be mental health or substance use issues,” Pearce explained. Recovery supports including bus passes or fuel cards, anything that can help an individual with the support they need to get to where they need to go so they can participate in their treatment program, Judge Orosco explained. The court is also allowed to give assistance with getting phone minutes, if they don’t have them, to provide the ability to check in. Treatment support includes copays and other costs, drug testing, etc. Pearce added to Orosco’s statements stating the supports are, “basically addressing those barriers that may be preventing them from seeking and maintaining treatment.”

Pearce shared, “I’m really passionate about this program because my experiences in community mental health and so, you know, on the treatment side, being able to see people make progress in their lives, but also there’s so many barriers in place, especially if someone is involved in the justice system and kinda just in that loop.” She went on to state, “To be on this side of things where we can intervene and help people address those barriers and be right there beside them, to support them if they’re willing to do the work. I think it’s going to be really huge. For people to have a positive experience as well, that’s why we have the law enforcement liaison and we’re working as a team to support individuals who are ready to get the help that they need.”

Who can qualify? It must be someone who has been charged within Franklin County. The individual “must be willing to do the work.” Participants are required to participate in treatment, perform community service, make regular court appearances, meet with their case manager frequently, and are monitored closely for program compliance. The Therapeutic Courts team works collaboratively with community providers to better support each participant in reaching their goals.

To be eligible for Mental Health Court an individual’s primary diagnosis should be a severe and persistent mental health disorder. To be eligible for Recovery Court an individual’s primary diagnosis should be a substance use disorder.

Both Judge Orosco and Dr. Pearce emphasized that anyone can help advocate for referrals to these programs including family and community members. Forms are available in the courtroom and via email. They said it is an important piece of the system to have the option for the community to refer people and feel like they have options for people in their life that need it. “It’s hard to see someone that you care about struggling with these kinds of things and not like you have any options to help them and so, I think it’s really important that the community can refer so that they feel like they have some options to help people in their lives who need it,” Dr. Pearce stated.

You can contact the Franklin County Therapeutic Court by email at:districtcourt@franklincountywa.gov or call: 509-545-3593.



TO CLARIFY:

To Clarify

The Franklin County Graphic just wanted to clarify a few items in our article on Judge Orosco’s efforts to bring Therapeutic Courts to Franklin County District Court printed on Dec. 14. First of all, since publishing the article we were informed that application forms are now uploaded to the new Franklin County Therapeutic Courts webpage located at: 

Secondly,  Therapeutic Courts save taxpayers an average of $6,000 for every participant served.

Thirdly, We mentioned an MOU with  the Merit Treatment Center - this has yet to be finalized but the process is in the works. 

Finally, Judge Trinity Orosco also clarified that District Court will serve those individuals within District Court and cases brought down from Superior Court will still have available slots in drug court in the bi-county program. If the prosecutor and defense attorney request a case be “dropped down” into district court for participation in a program, we will assess the person for entry into the program.  Dr. Alyssa Pearce added that while family and community members can refer people to the program…  It must be someone who has been charged within Franklin County with a misdemeanor or felony that the prosecutor agrees to refer to the District Court level. Pearce also added that this is a voluntary program and participants must be  agreeable to the program. They also need to review the referral with their defense attorney if they have one. You can contact the Franklin County Therapeutic Court by email at: apearce@franklincountywa.gov or call: 509-542-5929. . https://www.franklincountywa.gov/714/Therapeutic-Courts




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