Fort Lauderdale begins pilot community court program to curb jail time for petty crime

FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. (WSVN) - Fort Lauderdale city officials are experimenting with what’s being called community court.

Fort Lauderdale is one of five cities across the country selected to try out the program that serves as an alternative to jail for petty crime.

Every Wednesday, for the next 20 months, community court will be held at Fort Lauderdale City Hall.

Officials said most of the defendants are homeless.

“See if we can find a way to get these folks back on their feet, off the street,” said Chief Judge Jack Tuter, who presides over community court.

The court’s goal is to help individuals accused of petty crime get a second chance and find a job.

Julie Stevens was arrested for having an open container.

If she accepts treatment and participates in community services, they’ll work with her to find a job and a home.

“They usually take me to jail for an open container,” Stevens said. “I think this is a good program. It’s very helpful.”

Kevin Heart, picked up for a similar crime, was also given an alternative to jail.

Asked if this is a second chance for him, he responded, “Yes, and I hope it’s the last because I don’t want jail.”

If the program is successful in Fort Lauderdale, officials will expand it across Broward County.

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