New City Trick

Judge Jim Sullivan has a different way of dealing with crack whores -- don't just jail them, treat them for their addiction

Each day, before court begins, Sullivan convenes a meeting of all the not-for-profits and city agencies donating their time and efforts to reach out to the women. He wants a report from them on how the prostitutes are doing with their treatment plans.

But it isn't just the prostitutes who need to be evaluated. Sullivan knows that his own program must undergo evaluation, needs statistics to justify to City Hall its very existence.

Warren Thomas, a probation officer who works with Sullivan, says that measuring success is difficult. Is it defined by women who don't relapse into drug use or by women who don't pick up new charges?

Jill Pearson
Judge Jim Sullivan: "It seemed as though we were missing the boat."
Jennifer Silverberg
Judge Jim Sullivan: "It seemed as though we were missing the boat."

"Sometimes the police will arrest women they know as regulars even though they aren't doing anything," Thomas says.

But he says a rough analysis shows that the program is succeeding for 40 to 50 percent of the women passing through. And other people connected with the program say they're recruiting a local university professor to conduct a statistical analysis.

It is also unclear whether City Hall thinks the program is worth backing.

In April, Mayor Slay announced he was cracking down on nuisance crimes. In addition to problem properties and derelict buildings, he named prostitution as a target.

Since that time, many of the problem-property cases have ended up in the lap of the state courts, not the city courts. Since February, Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce's office has filed 700 new problem-property cases.

As far as prostitution cases are concerned, she says that the circuit attorney's office used to handle the cases but that "about eight years ago, the police department started taking them over to city court."

She says there have been some discussions with the mayor's office about moving the cases back to the circuit attorney.

"I don't have the staff to handle the additional misdemeanor caseload," Joyce says.

And without more money to hire another attorney or clerical staff, she doesn't anticipate any change in the way the cases are handled.

Whether Slay intends to change that, City Hall's not saying. His spokesman did not return repeated calls.

But Alderman Craig Schmid (D-10th) is happy with the effort. "I'm a strong believer in the community court," he says.

Although most people don't care what others do in their personal lives, Schmid says that attitude changes when someone's behavior affects the quality of life in their neighborhoods.

"Most folks probably don't care how we deal with the problem, but we're not going to have any long-lasting, enduring, sustainable effort unless we're getting to the root causes," Schmid says, "and it seems to me that that's the path we're headed in with the community court."

Tammy Curtner, who spends her days and nights at the city workhouse, has her own opinions about what the politicians should do:

"The mayor and everybody else wants to talk about how to keep the prostitutes off the street, how they need to clean up the drugs.

"And when they've got somebody who actually opens up a program and is giving it all they got, instead of trying to help, they're just talking about it," Tammy says.

She thinks Sullivan runs a good program, even though she's stuck in jail until June 15, 2004.

"He offers you everything you need to stay sober -- he gives it to you on a silver platter," Tammy says from behind wire mesh in the workhouse visiting room.

"He can get you into a rehab that won't accept you, he gives you that little pat on the back, he asks you questions. I was in court one time, and I literally listened to that man offer to get their family insurance.

"It is up to you to do the footwork," Tammy says. "It is your choice. And I chose inside -- apparently.

"Dumb, but I did."

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