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:
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:
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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