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Thumbs up to the organizers of and all those involved with the Lynchburg Community Court

As Published in the March 23rd, Lynchburg News & Advance

Thumbs up to the organizers of and all those involved with the Lynchburg Community Court, an innovative criminal justice program that began here in Lynchburg in January.

The program is targeted at juveniles charged with non-violent crimes and is the first of its kind in Virginia. The concept of a “community court” developed in New York City in the early 1990s as a way to give prosecutors and judges sentencing alternatives for certain at-risk offenders. The philosophy of the program is to make certain offenders face the consequences of their crimes, but also to fight the underlying causes of their offensives.

As reported in The News & Advance on Thursday, there are only about 30 community courts operating in the United States, but the concept has an international fan club with programs operating in countries such as Australia and South Africa. Lynchburg’s program got off the ground with a $250,000 grant.

In order to enter the community court program, the defendant must be charged with nothing more serious than a nonviolent misdemeanor. Prosecutors scrutinize the case of each possible entrant before the invitation to participate is extended. Right now, there are about two dozen people making their way through the program.

According to Shannnon Hadeed, an assistant commonwealth’s attorney for Lynchburg, the judge and lawyers involved are “fashioning a sentence to fit both the person and the crime.” Part of the sentence usually involves some way to make restitution to the community for the offense, often in the form of community service.

The goal of prosecutors and jurists in each case is simple: Catch criminal behavior in the early stages before it becomes ingrained and the offender becomes a public threat. It’s a worthy goal and deserves the community’s support.