How does Salem municipal court handle people who face multiple charges and citations? How do its policies contribute to lost time and money for residents? How can different agencies collaborate with the court to create a better experience for all?
Salem Municipal Judge Jane Aiken says that Salem can improve, both in the way it uses its own resources and in the way it produces outcomes for residents. She’s enthusiastic about procedural changes that have made the court more efficient in handling parking and traffic cases and that help expedite the criminal and civil matters that come before the court.
Further, Aiken is reaching out to Salem people to achieve even more improvements through a Four Year Strategic Plan.
“Part of the strategic planning process is for us to seek feedback from various sources,” Aiken says. She distributes a Framework for Strategic Planning paper at presentations and previously posted a community survey on the City of Salem website, inviting insight from community members.
Aiken is presiding judge at Salem Municipal Court, a city body that handles municipal ordinances and state statutes. The court manages more than 27,000 parking citations, more than 15,000 violations and more than 1,400 criminal cases every year.
One innovative strategy Aiken offers is for the city to send reminders to people who owe money for fines, 10 days before the fine is due. It’s a method to reduce the number of late payments and save court resources expended trying to collect these fines. It also helps residents save money because it increases the likelihood they will pay fines on time and avoid extra fees or penalties.
A significant problem for the court is the ‘revolving door’ experience of many of the offenders Aiken sees. In her presentations she cites one individual who has been through the municipal court system because of more than 91 citations for various misdemeanors over many years. Such cases take up the time and resources of court personnel; in this instance, Judge Aiken says, the cost for one person has grown to over $1 million.
What might be done differently? Because individuals who appear at municipal court multiple times are often homeless or have mental health issues, or face drug and alcohol abuse, Aiken has set up a system to intercept them earlier in the justice system, so referrals can be made to social or health services. Identifying problems early, she believes, reduces the number of violations these individuals commit and so reduces court time and resources.
As part of her Four Year Strategic Plan, Aiken is involving the Salem community in finding original solutions for the court and its justice system partners. She’s taken the message to an annual meeting of Neighborhood Association Chairs and earlier this year made a presentation to the East Lancaster Neighborhood Association (ELNA).
Many of the concepts she discusses these days, she says, “were first introduced in 2011 when our then court administrator, Cheryl Stone, and I first hosted a community discussion regarding justice services for those who are cited for quality of life offenses. Many changes and much progress have occurred in the intervening years.”
The goals of the four-year Strategic Plan are to provide for effective collaboration with other justice system partners and ensure the effective and prudent use of public resources. “What I’m focusing on,” Aiken says, “are the ways in which the court can improve its performance in the critical and unique role it plays as an institution.”
Anyone who wants to become involved in the process, receive notification of future meetings, or to respond to Aiken’s Court Survey, is welcome to contact the court administrator, Deborah Ingledew at email@example.com.