CATCH Court: A New Approach to Restoring Survivors

Katie Bergman


On a Thursday afternoon in Columbus, Ohio, women convicted of various misdemeanors meet in a crowded courtroom … but it’s not the kind of environment you’d expect. They greet each other with hearty embraces, as if they’ve been lifelong friends. They even come early to have lunch together before the proceedings. As they gather, they wait eagerly for the judge to assume his seat at the bench – but he’s too busy welcoming others on a first-name basis.


Across the U.S., many specialized courts address the needs of high-risk and high-need citizens, focusing on drugs and mental health. But a new type of court has emerged in Columbus, Ohio, to provide support to victims of trafficking. 


CATCH (“Changing Actions To Change Habits”) Court is based on the platform that participants are not criminals, but are victims in need of help and deserving of a second chance. They are invited into the program after being charged with prostitution and/or other crimes when there has been a history of human trafficking.


There is a formal process and specific requirements in order for the women to enter and remain in the program:


  • They are assigned a legal representative to provide information about their case to the Judge.
  • The defendant decides whether or not she would like to participate in the program.
  • A CATCH clinician does an assessment with each participant to determine the level of care needed.
  • One week later, the defendant formally requests to enter the two-year program.
  • The participants receive a variety of resources including trainings, access to housing, trauma-based counselling, and more. They learn to regain responsibility over their own lives, all in a coordinated community of support and love.

The mission of the CATCH program is holistic.  Staff establish an integrated approach to address the treatment, health, and behavioral needs of the participants.

Because prostitution and human trafficking are symptoms of deeper problems, CATCH staff also seek to address the numerous underlying issues facing the participants that have resulted in addiction, illness, or criminal behavior. Most notably, childhood trauma is often an underlying issue.

The program is working. While it’s estimated that the cost to keep one of these women in jail for a year is $200,000, CATCH Court costs $18,000 a year per individual.  But it’s more than a cost-saving venture. In a study of CATCH Court from last fall, some of the key findings include:

  • A reduction in prostitution arrests, from 1,745 in 2009 to 1,129 in 2013.
  • No new criminal records for 77 percent of all CATCH Court graduates.

CATCH Court has been gaining public recognition over the years, receiving a national award from the U.S. Department of Justice in recognition of his efforts in combating the human trafficking cycle.
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