Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to reflect that the Alternative Sentencing Court operates through the City of Topeka Municipal Court.
TOPEKA (KSNT) – For almost a decade, the City of Topeka Municipal Court has offered some the opportunity to seek help instead of a life behind bars
Alternative Sentencing Court started back in 2015 to offer those with mental health or substance abuse issues a unique route through the judicial process.
“I think the criminal justice system in itself is really complicated to navigate,” Valeo Behavioral Health Crisis Intake Manager Rachel Wolfe said. “And so, if we could have a program that’s tailor-made specifically to those who have behavioral health issues which may have led to the charges that they are facing and get them more support instead of going through the traditional process, that’s really the goal.”
Participants will voluntarily go through a year-long program where they will appear in court in front of a judge on a regular basis, while getting the treatment they need with the help of Valeo Behavioral Health.
As participants progress, their appearance time becomes less frequent and they are encouraged to get a job and rejoin society as their “better self”.
“When I joined this program, even with some reductants,” Alternative Sentencing Court participate Jordan Sieger said. “Now that I look back in hindsight, I think that it has done tenfold for me.”
The programs appointed counsel said for some, jail is just a revolving door. This program helps people break that cycle.
“I think the alternative sentencing court gives a little bit of humanity back to individuals,” Alternative Sentencing Counsel Kevin Cook said. “And it helps restore them and their sense of worth and gives them a sense of identity that they do have value within our community and that they are not just thrown away.”
For Sieger, he sees this program as a way for the City of Topeka and its citizens to work together for the better.
“I think bridging that gap is extremely important to not only understanding the people that live within the city, but that the city is also available to help and there’s available resources that anybody can reach out and obtain if they need them,” Sieger said.