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Human Trafficking Court Earns High Marks in First Year
Human Trafficking Court Earns High Marks in First Year

Katie Vloet
April 1, 2015

In its first year, the new Human Trafficking Court in Washtenaw County has successfully steered people who were arrested for prostitution or related charges, but then identified as victims of human trafficking, into a diversion program in which they received legal assistance, rehabilitative and treatment services, and an alternative to incarceration, according to a new report.

The court also resulted in a notable decrease in costs when compared to incarceration expenses, said the report, which was produced by the Curtis Center Program Evaluation Group (CC-PEG) at the University of Michigan School of Social Work. The court was developed in partnership with the Human Trafficking Clinic at the University of Michigan Law School, which provides free legal services to the people who participate in the diversion program.

“The success of this court is phenomenal, and it does what very few interventions are able to do: It creates a paradigm shift in how this population is treated while at the same time documenting successful outcomes and saving money. The results speak for themselves. The next step should be to implement this program statewide,” said Bridgette Carr, director of the Human Trafficking Clinic and a professor of law at U-M.

People sentenced to the Human Trafficking Court worked with the treatment team—including a case manager, judge, representatives from the Home of New Vision addiction treatment center, and peer support specialists—to establish the individual needs of each participant.

Additionally, during the pilot period evaluated by CC-PEG, representatives of the Human Trafficking Clinic trained more than 100 members of the criminal justice system about human trafficking and providing trauma-informed services. Trainings were provided to several local police departments including the Washtenaw County Detectives Bureau, as well as to the Judges, probation agents and staff of the Washtenaw County District Courts.

“One of the primary goals of the court is to increase awareness of human trafficking amongst the local criminal legal system so that exploited individuals will be identified and treated as victims as opposed to criminals,” said Elizabeth Campbell, clinical assistant professor of law in the Human Trafficking Clinic, who spearheaded the development of the court. “After every training at least one person approached me and identified that they had worked with a victim of human trafficking but they hadn’t known what to call it or how to respond. The court and associated trainings are changing the way the criminal legal system talks about and responds to human trafficking.”

The report also states that many challenges remain in order for the County to develop a comprehensive response to sex trafficking. Notably all stakeholders interviewed for the report stated that increased accountability for the purchasing of sex was required in order to reduce demand and exploitation of the vulnerable. Additionally, there are some significant areas of unmet need for participants such as GED programming, job training and access to affordable housing. In the upcoming years the court hopes to expand the services available to participants.

Among the report’s findings:

  • The potential cost savings with the program are significant. At $129 per inmate, it would cost $11,610 per individual in the Washtenaw County Jail for 90 days. The cost of the Human Trafficking Court for a much longer time period—two years—is just $5,319 per participant. The Human Trafficking Court has the potential to avert cost for Washtenaw County at a total of $6,291 per participant, the report states. In other words, the two-year probation program offered is less than half the cost of 90 days of jail time per individual served.
  • Of the actively engaged participants, two-thirds screened positive on the Severe Human Trafficking Assessment of the Human Trafficking Clinic, and all screened positive for substance abuse and had a mental health diagnosis.
  • Compliance rates were high in several facets of the program. Each participant was actively engaged in biweekly reviews with the judge of the Human Trafficking Court, at which they discussed their progress and compliance with requirements of the program, according to the report. All participants exhibited increased levels of self-sufficiency after being engaged with the court.

The Human Trafficking Court was created using funding from the Michigan State Court Administrator Office (SCAO) through the Court Performance Innovation Fund. Pilot funding supported operations from Oct. 1, 2013 through Sept. 30, 2014. In November 2014, the court received additional funding from SCAO to maintain the program for up to 15 participants through Sept. 30, 2015.

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