Breaking the cycle: Municipal Court Diversion Program promotes community collaboration, reintegration

The police found Joseph sleeping in an abandoned building and ticketed him. Joe had the option to participate in the Municipal Court Diversion Program, which made him eligible to have his charges dropped if he engaged in supportive services. 

Since participating in the program, Joe has been in addiction recovery for over six months, is employed, and will soon have a home. 

When someone faces misdemeanor charges directly related to poverty or homelessness, Pittsburg City Prosecutor John Mazurek prefers to work with them to break the cycle of poverty through the Municipal Court Diversion Program. If Municipal Court Diversion participants fail to make the improvements, the prosecutor will proceed with the case’s prosecution, and they will face a fine and jail time. 

“If you get them off the streets, they will be productive members of society, and that’s the entire goal,” Mazurek said. 

Through the program, Joe must meet weekly with a Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas Community Health Worker (CHW) to review progress and work together to meet his goals. Joe said the support he receives from Wesley House staff is helping him keep up with his goals. 

“They don’t set goals for you. You set your own goals,” Joe said. “We meet weekly and go over what I’ve done and if I’m still doing well. If it weren’t for them, I’d be in jail or in the same place I was months ago.” 

Joe became homeless after a drug addiction that started in his last year of high school. Born and raised in southeast Kansas, Joe was an athlete and avid motorsports lover, an ordinary teen who made a critical mistake and got high with his friends. 

After a couple of years of substance abuse, Joe got sober and, for several years, worked as an HVAC technician. He connected with an acquaintance from the past, and the two dated and they have two children. Joe relapsed back into drug use and lost custody of his children; his relationship ended, and he lost his home. 

CHWs at Wesley House connect Municipal Court Diversion participants to supportive services like health insurance enrollment, obtaining identification documents, attending doctor appointments, and engaging in housing, employment, and treatment programs with other service providers. 

The program complements the goal of CHWs, integrated into systems like healthcare and judicial settings, ultimately promoting self-sufficiency and better health, CHC/SEK Patient Engagement Coordinator Abby McCoy said. McCoy attends court sessions every Wednesday, engaged and readily available to receive referrals from Mazurek to coordinate services with CHWs. 

Through discussions between Pittsburg City Manager Daron Hall, Mazurek, and Wesley House, the Municipal Court Diversion Program was initiated in October 2023. It is a partnership with the CHC/SEK, Crawford County Mental Health, and Wesley House. Mazurek said the top three needs of improvement for participants are getting identification, getting a job, and finding a home. 

“The biggest issue is the housing; we just do not have enough,” Mazurek said. “They can qualify for the vouchers, but the vouchers are no good if no home is available.” 

Since the program started, 31 participants have worked with the CHC/SEK, and seven people have already had their tickets dismissed because they complied with the program requirements. 

“They got their IDs, have housing and jobs, and are off the streets,” Mazurek said. 

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