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Community court takes aim at repeat offenders

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TWC News: Community court takes aim at repeat offenders
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Judge Michael Coffey's courtroom in downtown Austin is a revolving door for repeat offenders.

Class C misdemeanors like public intoxication, public urination and violating the ‘No Sit, No Lie’ ordinance - -which prohibits sitting or lying on the street -- are among the frequent charges presented before Coffey’s bench.

Peter Valdez with the Downtown Austin Community Court says the system considers 280 people repeat offenders because they have 25 or more cases in the court, with at least one active case within the last two years.

City officials increased the court's budget for 2013 by $140,000 so it could set up a street outreach program.

"It's really about the wraparound services that often times exist, they're just not networked," Valdez said. "But most importantly, those issues that they were seeing being repeated and not being resolved."

The new program will bring more services for mental health and substance abuse treatment, and permanent housing for Austin's homeless.

"The research data and the studies show that it's more cost effective, in many cases cost neutral, but the most important thing is that it's more humane to provide these individuals with stability," Valdez said.

The goal is to help people before they end up back in Judge Coffey's courtroom, and according to Police Chief Art Acevedo, to better protect public safety.

"It's really an inefficiency for us so it's really important that we leverage all the resources we have to A, hold people accountable, but B, get them the help that they need to get their lives together," Acevedo said.

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