Accountability Court offers second chance

Published 4:18 pm Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A new court in Shelby County gives some property crime offenders a second chance.

Accountability court works with people guilty of crimes like receiving stolen property, theft and unlawful breaking into a vehicle. Criminals convicted of violent crimes, burglary and major drug offenses aren’t allowed in the program.

People who successfully complete the court lose the conviction on their permanent records.

“It’s not the cheap and easy way out. The regular docket is not nearly as much hassle,” said Circuit Court Judge J. Michael Joiner. “There is an easier way out, but they would have a conviction on their record. It’s a pretty good deal if you make it work.”

Accountability court started in August 2007. About 60 people are currently in the program with more applying to be admitted each week.

The district attorney’s office and defense attorneys work together to identify potential candidates. Most of the people in the court would lose their case in regular court and likely be given probation, Joiner said.

“The purpose of this docket is to possibly have that charged dismissed,” Joiner said. “The likelihood is they might now win on the regular docket.

Joiner said at least 70 percent of those in accountability court have drug problems. To graduate from the program, participants must do random drug testing and treatment if they have a drug problem, go to life coaching and pay restitution to victims.

“Many of these people have never had supervision,” Joiner said. “We try to connect them with positive role models.”

To help the program continue to grow, Shelby County recently received a $30,000 grant from Alabama’s Administrative Office of Courts. Joiner said he hopes one day the court can operate solely after fines collect, much like the county’s drug court.