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HT Court participants and other supporters, gathered for a group photo after the graduation ceremony. They include, l-r, Regina Brown; Latina Roy, probation officer; Catherine Justice; Annette Johnson, probation officer; Dawn Jordan; Renee Blaze, CSTS peer support specialist; Valerie Bass, peer support specialist; Alaina Blake; Christy Dew, volunteer health and wellness coach; Toni Malone, HT Court coordinator; Allyssa Caulk; and Elizabeth Campbell, clinical assistant professor, University of Michigan Law School Human Trafficking Clinic.

Photo by Frank Weir
 

Human Trafficking Court celebrates first graduation

By Frank Weir
Legal News

The Human Trafficking Court, headquartered at 14B District Court with Judge Charles Pope presiding, held its first graduation on Sept. 23, with participant Catherine Justice completing the program.

Begun in March of last year, the court is designed to provide direct services, including substance abuse and trauma-based care in order to reduce recidivism. In this way, Pope said, courts can take a pro-active approach with those individuals who run afoul of the law. Probationary sentences are typically two years, which allows for HTC to develop a long-term relationship with each participant. Although not a probationary requirement, all HTC participants are offered a free civil legal consultation with the University of Michigan Law School Human Trafficking Clinic together with an assessment in order to determine if participants are being exploited by another individual. The clinic is an ongoing partner with the HTC.

Terms of probation include substance abuse and trauma counseling; engagement with a 12-step sponsor and recovery community; enrollment in school or employment; and regular contact with the court. The HTC has seven active participants currently.

In remarks made at the ceremony, Pope noted that the court is the first specialty court at 14B and “couldn’t be operated without our participants’ diligent efforts and the U-M’s Human Trafficking Clinic, other courts, and case managers.”

“Cathy was our first participant,” Pope said. “She had absconded probation and arrived back to court just when the project was getting off the ground. I feel it was meant to be, Karma if you will, that she came back just as we were beginning the court.

“To watch Cathy’s growth over the last several months has been heart warming and it was nothing I or the court did. All we do is point a flashlight although we do have a hammer in our other hand too,” Pope said to laughter.

He added that the participants do “the heavy lifting.”

“It’s heart warming to see someone take the opportunity and turn their experience here not only into a life changing one but also changing their future. Everyone has ups and downs throughout the process but Cathy came out on top and now is a Michigan Certified Peer Support Specialist.

“How’s that for going from the dog house to the penthouse?”

Pope also said that Justice began her participation with the court with less than 30 days left on her sentence.

“It would have been easy for her to have just waited out her sentence but she took the more difficult path recognizing that she is a good person and should be number one in her life. If we don’t love ourselves, it’s hard for others to love and support us.”

In receiving the official documentation of completion of the program, Justice said that it was not an easy task.

“Within two weeks of getting into the program, getting PBTs every morning, going to AA and NA meetings, got to do this, got to do that, I called friends and said I just can’t do this.

“But they talked me down even though I was ready to jump off a building and now, here I am today. There have been so many people that came along to help me. When I got caught on my last prostitution charge, Renee Blaze (Peer Support Specialist), got in my face and told me I was lying, I needed to get right with myself. I admitted I wasn’t right with myself.

“When I came in to the program, I didn’t think too highly of myself. Through classes, I opened up and admitted I just can’t do this any more, I had to change everything that was keeping me in trouble. This court has changed my life in so many ways. If someone 18 months ago had asked if I would get through it, I would have said no way. Heck no. Eighteen months of drug screens and not failing them? No.

“I’m so excited for my next adventure. I hope all the participants stay in the program.”
 

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