Marilyn B Cassidy – Judge, Cleveland Municipal Court
Municipal courts are “the people’s courts.” Most people who meet a judge will do so in a municipal court. We handle minor traffic cases, driving under suspension, and quality-of-life issues such as loud noise, and criminal trespass. We also handle more serious offenses such as domestic violence, assault, and driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
The Cleveland Municipal Court is a problem-solving court. Most of the people we see are ordinary citizens who made a mistake or mistakes. As a court, we are well situated to provide help to those who come before us.
The Cleveland Municipal Court offers numerous programs to help re-direct offenders to a productive life. There are four specialized dockets certified by the Ohio Supreme Court:
1. Drug Court
2. Mental Health Court
3. Veteran’s Court
4. Specialized Docket for Human Trafficking Survivors
Specialized dockets utilize evidence-based methods of supporting individuals through steps that bring them to a healthier life. Research has shown the drug court model to be an effective tool to help individuals recover from addiction and trauma. Participants see the judge a minimum of twice per month. It is a non-adversarial environment focused on treatment.
The court meets with involved clinicians as a team before proceedings to discuss participant progress. We use incentives and sanctions to gain the participant’s compliance with program requirements. Successful completion may result in no conviction and sealing of the participant’s record in the underlying cause.
The Specialized docket for Human Trafficking started in 2014. It is a voluntary two-year program and addresses women who are charged with prostitution and other trafficking-related offenses such as possession of drug paraphernalia or petty theft. A clinician meets with prospective participants to administer the Trafficking Victim Intervention Tool which is used to identify a person as a victim of human trafficking. The participant is also assessed for mental health and substance abuse treatment needs and the team plans accordingly.
A typical treatment plan involves residential or outpatient treatment with sober living. The treatment team has developed a customized program that addresses the extensive trauma needs of trafficking survivors. As women progress through treatment, participants work on gaining soft skills, planning/decision-making as well as job training and/or education. The team also helps with housing, and as with many populations, this is an area that needs improvement. With successful completion of the program, Ohio law allows nearly all convictions that occurred during a period of victimization to be sealed.
To date, the court has identified 160 victims of human trafficking. About sixty are admitted to the program and of those, 25 are active. Eighteen women have successfully completed the program and have returned to the community as productive citizens.
Most women enter the program from the street. They are in sex work as a result of force, fraud, and/or coercion. They are not strangers to jail. They are in the throes of their trauma and addiction and they are unhappy. Many of them are branded with tattoos such as a UPC bar code, “Property of”, or dollar signs for example. Nearly all of them suffer some form of mental illness. Some are bruised from beatings.
It is exciting and gratifying to see our women grow and gain independence and responsibility for themselves. In the program, they are asked to help make decisions for themselves, an experience which many have never had. Many of them are reunited with their children as they progress.
The results are worth the great effort of all involved. It takes time for a brain to heal, and it takes work by the participant to achieve results. I am proud of our team at the court and the women who persevere to regain control of their lives.
Work that is good for Clevelanders is good for Cleveland. We are proud to join with many community partners including Moore Mediation & Counseling Services, Renee Jones Empowerment Center, The Collaborative to End Human Trafficking, and The Jordan House. Let’s make sure that helping survivors of human trafficking continues at the Cleveland Municipal Court.
If you suspect human trafficking, contact the Cuyahoga County Regional Human Trafficking Task Force Hotline: 216-443-6085.
If you are a survivor of human trafficking, contact the STAR Hotline, 1 855-431-7827.
For homeless & missing youth contact Bellefaire JCB Homeless & Missing Youth Program Hotline at 216-570-8010.