By Carol Stiffler

Luce and Mackinac county’s 92nd District Court is one of 10 recipients of an elite federal grant that will establish community court practices in the district.

The grant, which is renewable, is for an impressive $419,292 and was given by the Bureau of Justice Assistance. Funds became available on January 1, 2023, and are already in use. District Court Judge Beth Gibson has established a Community Court staffed with three employees who are building a network to monitor and support individuals as they travel through the court system for low-level crimes. Gibson is seeking to have terms of the grant amended to include some felony cases.

It’ll amount to more oversight during the court process, which can stretch for months, Gibson said.

“Folks awaiting adjudication are being held responsible,” Gibson said.

“We envision enhancing oversight of defendants that are at a higher risk of committing another crime due to lack of oversight once they are bound over to circuit court. Pretrial monitoring will be offered to those at risk, particularly those with prior misdemeanors,” Gibson said in an earlier statement.

That should make the community more safe, she said, during the weeks and months between arraignment and sentencing.

The grant will also help cover costs of job training for defendants, mental health treatment, conflict resolution, improved monitoring, or anger management help, for example, while they travel through the judicial system. This is expected to increase positive outcomes while recidivism decreases.

Chenise Nolan, who applied for the grant for the court, said the district is already screening defendants for eligibility while working with local organizations to create support programs.

She’s working to set up anger management classes through Helen Newberry Joy Hospital, and is looking for non-profits to welcome community service workers.

Chenise Nolan applied for the grant and is the grant manager; John Wendt handles tether, case management, and community court, and Kelsey Autterson oversees sobriety court. Their salaries are covered by the Bureau of Justice Assistance grant.

“This is the first [grant of its kind] in Michigan,” Nolan said.

The Bureau of Justice Assistance Program issued $5.35 million in grants this year. In addition to 92nd District Court, awards were given to Jersey City, New Jersey; Delaware’s Community Court Project, San Francisco’s Nuevos Destinos program, the Pima County Misdemeanor Problem-Solving Court Enhancement, and Dane County Community Court Initiative, and others.

Gibson believes the grant to 92nd District Court was issued both based on need and the small, rural environment the court exists in.

“I couldn’t be happier,” she said. “I would expect to see positive outcomes after next quarter.”