Bexar County Expanding the 'Specialty Courts' Model

Bexar County is going 'all in' for specialty courts,' establishing fourteen criminal courts to attempt to deal with the root causes of violence and criminal activity," News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.

The specialty courts concept is part of Judge Nelson Wolff's goal of 'restorative' justice, claiming that simply locking people up without any attempt to get at the reasons why the individual has turned to crime and violence frequently makes the situation worse, because the person comes out of prison of jail with those underlying causes still in place.

The County has established special courts to handle cases relating to domestic violence, drug abuse, cases dealing with defendants with mental illnesses, alcohol and drug abuse, courts to deal with veterans, even an 'Esperanza Court' which deals with suspects who are believed to have 'hope' or turning their lives around.

"We have mental health issues, we have alcohol issues, and they affect every segment of the population," said First Assistant District Attorney and long time Criminal Court Judge Phil Kazen.

The specialty courts will not let suspects off the hook. Each will be staffed by a criminal court judge who has the authority to sentence defendants to prison. But any sentence for qualifying defendants will include incentives to change their behavior, get a job, get off drugs and booze, and take over positive steps.

Kazen concedes it is a new concept when compared to the 'Zero Tolerance' 'Tough on Crime' 1990's.

"I can say this today where I might have been excoriated for saying this twenty years ago, but I can tell you today that being smart on crime is being tough on crime."

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