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New courts are welcome judicial options
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Forsyth County News

Cookie-cutter approaches to the dispensing of justice seldom work well, which is why it’s encouraging to see the county continue to pursue funding for “accountability courts” and to make the effort necessary to ensure that such courts are a success.

The county last month received approval for state funding of two new accountability courts, one to deal with misdemeanor drug cases and the other for cases in which the mental health of the accused is an issue.

The county already has seen significant success with existing DUI and drug courts, and we suspect the new courts will also prove to be worth the investment of time and money.

Accountability courts provide judges and prosecutors with options in cases so that they aren’t forced to seek jail time or probationary status for certain defendants when doing so may not be the best path to “justice.”

In such courts the accused are given an opportunity to prove they are serious about addressing the problem which resulted in their arrest, with strict monitoring and court intervention over a specified period of time.

The goal is to keep people from repeating their crimes, and to keep defendants out of jail cells when it makes sense to do so.

Financially such courts certainly make sense, when you weigh the cost of operations against the cost of building more jail and prison space, underwriting the cost of housing and feeding inmates and post-incarceration supervision.

But more importantly they make sense in terms of the application of justice, giving those whose crimes may be relatively minor in nature a chance to prove their willingness to change under the watchful eye of court supervision.

Accountability courts demand a lot of time and effort by local judges and court officers, and are most successful when those involved in the courts serve as champions for the cause. The existing courts in Forsyth County certainly have proven their worth.

Make no mistake, the completion of the requirements for participation in such courts is not easy. Defendants not truly committed to changing potentially destructive habits may quickly find themselves back before the bench in a more traditional court setting if they fail to follow the strict guidelines of accountability courts.

While such courts for drug and alcohol cases have proven themselves, we are particularly intrigued by the possibilities of the mental health court, which may provide ways for those in need to obtain help from mental health resources without having them first prosecuted through the traditional criminal justice system.

The creation of such courts has been made possible by state grants which seem likely to continue under Gov. Nathan Deal, who has made a commitment to revamping and improving Georgia’s court system on many different fronts.

Accountability courts have shown they work. We’re glad to see those involved in the local court system willing to make the effort necessary to make them viable.