In March 2019, Matterhorn hosted a discussion on how several courts in Michigan are working together with community partners to remove barriers to recovery.
Hear Judah B. Garber, Washtenaw County Friend of the Court, Lisa Fusik, Deputy Court Administrator of the Michigan 14A District Court, and Jason Schwartz, Clinical Director of Dawn Farm recovery organization, share outcomes and lessons learned from this initiative launched in the summer of 2018.
ODR and Recovery Webinar Video, Slides, and Transcript
ODR and Recovery Webinar Slides
ODR and Recovery Webinar Transcript
Dunrie Greiling, host, Matterhorn product team
I want to welcome everyone. My name is Dunrie Greiling. I am part of the product team here at Matterhorn in Ann Arbor, and we have a great webinar for you today. We’re speaking with Judah Garber, Washtenaw County, Friend of the Court, Lisa Fusik, Deputy Court Administrator from 14A District Court and Jason Schwartz, who’s the Clinical Director at Dawn Farm. And they’re talking to us today about court, community and tech partners, remove barriers to recovery with online dispute resolution.
We have registrants from all over the country, from as far away as Hawaii and as near to us here in Michigan as Jackson and Livonia. I want to welcome you and thank you for your attention today. Before I introduce the speakers more fully and we’ll get started, I wanted to just give you a brief orientation to Zoom in case you haven’t been on one of these webinars with this software.
You’ll see a black bar that has some functionality with Zoom that will give you the opportunity to ask questions with the Q&A widget, and it will give the opportunity as well to chat us if you’re having any technical trouble. Maybe you can’t hear us or something’s going awry and you’d like to connect us. And we are monitoring both the chat and the Q&A widget, so please, as you go, ask questions of our presenters. They’ve generously given their time and they’re willing to share their expertise, so have at it. We will moderate the questions and if we can, we’ll answer them in real time. And if not, we’re going to reserve some time at the end to answer your questions.
And if there’s any we don’t get to, we commit to following up afterwards by email. So please make good use of that Q&A widget. We also are often asked if this will be recorded and if the slides will be available. And I’m happy to say that, yes, we are doing both so that you can have access to these resources afterwards. So, please make note of that. We’ll send you the URL, Zoom will send you the URL afterwards where you can access the recording and the slides. That’s the logistical housekeeping information.
And I want to now more fully introduce our esteemed panel and share a little bit about their backgrounds and their, yeah, and who we have here today. I’m going to start there on the left with Judah. Judah Garber is the director of the Washtenaw County, Friend of the Court. He’s been with the Friend of the Court in Washtenaw County since 1987. And he was President of the Michigan Friend of the Court Association from 2010 to 2011. And I know some of you from around Michigan know Judah, and if you are not, if you don’t know what this thing called Friend of the Court is, Judah will explain it in just a moment.
In the middle on our screen, we have Lisa Fusik. She’s Deputy Court Administrator from the 14A District Court. She has been with that court since 2008 and has been Deputy Administrator since 2011. She’s been working in the area of ODR since 2014 when the 14A District Court partnered with an ODR vendor called Matterhorn to do the first of its kind online traffic review.
And I’m also happy to welcome Jason Schwartz, who is the Clinical Director at Dawn Farm. He’s been with Dawn Farm since 1994 and has served as its clinical director since 1999, overseeing services throughout Dawn Farm’s continuum of care. He is an author on blogs and published articles on harm reduction and recovery oriented supervision. And it may be obvious, but he is part of the community partners to remove barriers to recovery from our title. At this point, I will hand it over to Judah to illustrate a little bit more about why we’re here and tell us more about this project.
Judah Garber, Washtenaw County Friend of the Court
Thank you, Dunrie, and thanks for putting this all together. This slide is kind of a preview and we’ll cycle back to this slide later on. It shows how our customers, people who are in recovery at Dawn Farm can then get in touch with the court through this application that Matterhorn has developed through us, and connect with the court, try to reestablish contact with us and handle business and removes whatever obstacles to recovery that we might, as one of the barriers to recovery, we the court might be posing.
So, again, and I’ll talk more about my agency later. But the Friend of Court, for those of you not from Michigan, it’s somewhat unique to Michigan. We are the child support enforcement agency for each county in Michigan. And we also handle custody and parenting time issues for the court. We handle the whole domestic relation docket on behalf of the court and that gives us the ability to do some more holistic treatment of families and I’ll talk more about that later. Now, I’d like to turn it over to Jason.
Jason Schwartz, Clinical Director, Dawn Farm
Okay. So, I’m glad to be here today as well. I’m going to move pretty quickly, ’cause I think Lisa and Judah are the stars of this webinar. But I’m going to give a little bit of context and try to explain what we’re up against. So, y’all are familiar with the opioid epidemic going on across the United States, and the dramatic increase in overdoses in the last five years. I mean, it was already been at, it was already two and a half times worse than or three or four times worse than it had ever been in 2011, and then it just picked up steam as synthetics flooded the market. And so, opioid addiction in our mind isn’t really any different than it’s ever been, but the stakes are higher. We’re seeing more and more overdoses than ever.
And in Washtenaw County, we have not been spared at all. We’ve had 1,285 overdoses since 2011. And I would guess there’s another 700 or so in addition to that since October 2017. So, the stakes are really high. Next, please. I’m from Dawn Farm. Dawn Farm is, we provide a continual care to treat people with addiction and provide recovery support. Next. We’ve been around since 1973, and we are really a farm. Our original site. We’ve got llamas, goats, sheep, roosters. We sell eggs. We’ve got rabbits. We’ve got all sorts of animals here. And taking care of the animals and gardens is part of people’s treatment experience.
Next, please. So, in residential treatment, we’ve got two sites. There’s the farm, which we just saw a picture of and a downtown facility. The average length to stay is about three months between the two of them. Next. And we’ve also got an outreach center in downtown in Arbor with 18 beds. With the two residential sites I just mentioned, we have a total of 49 beds between the two of them. And the detox and outreach center has 18 beds, and it serves as a community center for the recovering community. We’ve got open groups there every day throughout the day. We’ve got people in various stages of recovery coming through. And we have about 40 to 60 visitors coming through every day. And all of the meals there are cooked by volunteers, and some of the meals are pretty amazing. We get a lot of chefs coming in and helping out.
Next, please. We’ve also got pretty traditional outpatient services. And a lot of our court involved clients are in all levels of care, but this program has probably a especially high representation of court involved people. Next. We also work with our local community corrections and do programming inside the jail and in the community corrections office to help keep people out of jail and in compliance with their conditions of their release. Next, please. And we’ve got, I believe now, we’re up to about 186 beds of recovery housing throughout the community. Most of it’s in Arbor, some of it’s in Ypsilanti.
And this is one of the things that makes us really unusual. We’ve got this broad continuum of care going from detox and into recovery housing. And people might be involved in treatment and recovery support with Dawn Farm for two years, so it’s not unusual at all. We see people through the initial crisis on the worst day of their lives, and we see them through getting a job, maintaining a job, maybe getting a better job down the road, getting a car. All sorts of early milestones in their treatment in recovery. Next, please. Dawn Farm’s mission is to assist addicts and alcoholics in achieving long-term recovery. And we do that by identifying and removing barriers that prevent addicts and alcoholics from joining the recovering community. So, we view ourselves as barrier removers.
And some of the barriers are internal to the client, there may be a history of mental illness. It may be a history of trauma or some other kind of internal trait or problem that they’re experiencing. And a lot of the barriers people encounter are external. Everything from lack of affordable housing, lack of housing that will take people who have felonies or allow people, sign leases for people who have felonies to involvement in the criminal justice system that ends up being, or maybe not appropriate involvement to criminal justice system, as we’ll be seeing, that interfere with their ability to stabilize in recovery. Okay, next. Now, I’m going to give a little bit of a background on addiction, a really quick addiction 101 that looks at the experience of being addicted and what it is we’re up against from trying to facilitate somebody achieving stable recovery. Next.
Okay, so we’re looking at slides of PET, this slide includes PET scans of brains of people with a cocaine problem. The upper row looks at a part of the brain known as the amygdala, the lower row looks at a part of the brain known as the anterior cingulate. And the first column just shows you where to look. The next column shows the subjects watching a nature video, so it might be Planet Earth or Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, something like that. And then that final column shows them being exposed to a millisecond cocaine cue. And this cocaine cue could be anything from a picture of a neighborhood that they used to cop drugs in to the drug itself, paraphernalia. Anything like that that is associated with cocaine for those users.
And what’s important about it is they showed these millisecond exposures in the middle of this nature video. And why would they do that? Why would they show just this millisecond exposure while they’re watching a nature video? And the reason the researcher say they did that was because they wanted to get a preconscious response. They wanted to see what was happening in the brain for an exposure that’s so fast that the person hasn’t even had an opportunity to process what it is they’ve seen. They’re not even really aware that they’ve been exposed to a cocaine cue. And these parts of the brain fire off.
So, then that begs the question, what do these parts of the brain do? These are both part of a brain known as the limbic system. And the limbic system could be thought of as one of our more primitive brain system that’s associated with getting our genes in the next generation. So, keeping ourselves safe when we encounter threats, activating flight, fight or run, or flight, fight or freeze, excuse me. Or paternal or maternal bonding to offspring and reproduction, those kinds of things. This part of the brain, this primitive part of the brain is activated before the person even realizes what it is they’ve seen. And you can think of this as part of the go system of the brain. This is the part of the brain that sees thing and is often encouraging us to go, whether that’s go do something or go get away from something.
Next. This is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. A lot of you have probably been exposed to this at some point in your education. They teach this to teachers, to doctors, to nurses, to social workers, counselors, professional helpers of all kinds. One of the questions we have to ask ourselves is, why is this so important? Why would they teach this to so many different kinds of professional helpers? And one of the things we’re expected to take away from this is that people can’t focus on higher order needs, like self actualization or esteem or belonging until their lower order needs are satisfied. People can’t focus on belonging or esteem if they don’t have adequate access to food, air and water or if they don’t feel safe. So, we need to focus on those lower order needs before we’re able to make any progress on higher order needs.
If you were a live audience, and I was looking at you and interacting with you and asking you questions, I would ask you, which part of the brain is the limbic system concerned with? We just talked about that limbic system. And the answer is, it’s the lower part of the hierarchy, so the physiological needs and the safety needs. Next. And what addiction does is hijack that part of the brain and insert alcohol and drugs at the bottom of the hierarchy. Sometimes we joke that raising the dead is easier than treating addiction, ’cause at least the dead don’t fight back. So, when you see addicts and alcoholics fight like they’re defending their life when you try to step in between them and their drugs or alcohol, this is what’s going on. Their brain is treating it as an essential life need. Next.
Another part of the brain that’s involved in addiction is the frontal cortex, that red section up at the top right of that image. And the frontal cortex is involved in what’s known as executive function. This is a more advanced part of the brain. Executive function means that we evaluate the short and long-term benefits and consequences of various decisions. And we can kind of think of this as the brakes or the stop system in the brain. The limbic system says, “Oh, sugary, fatty treats. I want to eat a cookie. In fact, I want to eat a dozen cookies.” The frontal cortex says, “Now, Jason, you’re on Weight Watchers. Maybe you ought to think twice about that. Let’s stop.”
And one of the things we know in the brains of people with addiction is that the frontal cortex has some impairment. You could think of the brains of addicts and alcoholics as where it comes to drugs and alcohol, the go system is like a gas pedal is stuck to the floor. And it won’t come up. And the frontal cortex is the braking system in the car and it’s not working well. So, you got a limbic system that’s cranked all the way up or the pedal to the metal and the brakes aren’t working right. Next, please. When we think about trying to remove barriers for people who are experiencing this, the barriers are not confined to elements that we can address in treatment. They go well into the community. Next, please. One of the ways we think about this task is there’s this concept of a Healing Forest. And this concept came from a Native American Wellbriety Movement out of Colorado called White Bison. And it’s been spread around by a researcher, a historian, and advocate named William White.
And the idea behind the Healing Forest is that if you were walking through a forest and you find a sick, young tree, traditionally, our approach has been to dig out that sick, young tree, take it to a nursery, give it all the fertilizer it needs, give it all the light it needs, give it all the water it needs, get it healthy and strong and then bring it back to the soil where we found it, the spot where we found it and plant it again. And if we plant it in the same spot that it struggled and sickened and maybe was at risk of dying, what is likely to happen again if you bring it back to the same spot? The same thing all over again.
And the idea behind the Healing Forest is that we need to stop taking people out of their communities to nurse them back to health and find ways to enhance the health of the whole forest to support the recovery of people in seeking, in need of help for their addiction, seeking recovery. Dunrie, you’re managing time. You can decide whether we’ve got time for this example of the Healing Forest.
Yeah. I think we’re doing well in time. I would like to, I think it’s a great illustration, so I’m going to hit play. Just note to the attendees, the audio starts low and then builds. So, you might not hear it right away.
Note: we have not transcribed the video. You may view the video in its entirety here on YouTube.
Okay. So, the concept of the Healing Forest expands into all sorts of areas including housing, transportation, employment. So, recovery is good business is one example. We’ve got somewhere in the neighborhood a dozen employers that make a point of being recovery friendly and hire people early in recovery and we provide a little bit of support for them. And this is where it ties back into all of you. Our partners and our local courts have expressed interest in being part of this healing forest and wanted to know how can we contribute, how can we help? And our courts over the years have developed several specialty courts, which have been an enormous help to the people Dawn Farm serves. And the use of this software has been another step. And Lisa and Judah will speak about that now.
Handing off to Judah.
All right. Yeah, on this slide, you’ll see there are various potential hurdles to recovery. At the bottom, psychological barriers, economic, childcare, transportation. At the top, child support obligations that would be, I suppose, a barrier that is presented by my agency, including suspended drivers licenses, warrants, other tools that we use to enforce support obligations. We would like to remove those hurdles and not be an obstacle, but rather be part of that healing forest. Next slide, please.
This is our homepage. The Friend of Court as an agency was … So, it’s our 100th year anniversary, we established in 1919 in Michigan with the charge to oversee the financial welfare of children by ensuring that the parents provided support when the families weren’t together. And also, arrange for custody and parenting time arrangements in the best interest of the children. They didn’t use the terms parenting time back then, but the same concept applies today. Next.
The support enforcement part of what we do is part of a large nationwide network. We’re supported by the federal government through the state and through the counties. Nationally, about 30 billion dollars is collected every year in child support. In Michigan, it’s about 1.3 billion lately. Washtenaw is a medium sized county, so we collect about 40 million a year in child support. We also handle custody, investigations, mediations, dispute resolution and we make recommendations for the court, we try to help the parents resolve custody and parenting time matters. And if they can’t, then we assure of recommendations.
And then we enforce not just the support, but we also enforce parenting time arrangements if one of the parents isn’t cooperating with the court order of parenting time, we will take steps to enforce that. Next step. Child support is a vital part of financial wellbeing of children for people below the federal poverty line, the child support they receive will constitute about 50% of the family income. And some studies show that a dollar received in child support actually has more impact on the child’s wellbeing than a dollar received from other sources, perhaps because it shows that both parents are invested in their wellbeing.
Another interesting fact about support is that the vast majority of undue, of past due support is owed by parents who don’t make much money, who make less than 15,000 a year. So, it’s a challenge that we all face in how do you take money from one family who doesn’t have much to give it to the other part of the family that also doesn’t have much? Next slide, please. One way of conceptually grouping people who pay support is the vast majority, they’re willing and able to pay support and most of the child support is paid through income withholding for people who have regular jobs. There’s another smaller group, this looks like four quadrants, but really they’re not equal size. There’s the people who are able to pay but not really willing to pay. And then on the bottom right are those who are willing but unable. And the bottom left, those who neither can nor are able to even if they wanted to, which they don’t.
So, how do we move people from those other two quadrants, the willing and unable and the unwilling and able? A lot of times, one of the obstacles is they’re suffering from substance abuse and addiction, and that interferes with their ability to hold a job. And so, folks who are in treatment at Dawn Farm or elsewhere can be moving from the willing, unable to the willing and able category and anything we can do to facilitate that is something that we want to do. And we’ll talk about our app in a minute after Lisa talks about her online dispute resolution program that’s been running successfully for years. In thinking about how we might do such a program, we had to consider various things. Next slide.
In Washtenaw County, that said, we’re a medium sized county, we have about 14,000 active child support cases and about 600 active bench warrants. We’ve tried to reduce the number of warrants. We did so. We’ve cut it in about half over the last several years. Warrants are issued when people don’t show up at a hearing that they’re required to show up. Because they’re ordered to show up at a hearing and they don’t show, then they’re in contempt of court. So, a civil warrant goes out for their arrest. If they’re arrested under warrant, then they, we usually ask them to pay some money towards their support obligation if they have the means to do so. Next slide, please.
But along those lines, people who have warrants, they’ve been avoiding us, they’ve been avoiding their obligations, they aren’t in a frame of mind to meet their obligations. And then it’s a vicious cycle because once a warrant’s out, they don’t want to have anything to do with the court ’cause they’re afraid of getting arrested if they showed up. So, how do we reach them in a way that might be less threatening? And that’s where this idea of an app comes in. And again, back to that slide we showed you earlier. Someone enters into a recovery program through Dawn Farm, we have made an arrangement that anyone who does that and contacts us through this application, the Matterhorn app, we will then withdraw any warrants that are outstanding based on Dawn Farm asserting that this is someone who is in treatment. They’re working on recovery and are trying to take accountability and we want to move any obstacles.
So, we will recall any outstanding warrants and start working with them on other issues that might be going on in their case. And that, as you see, they can enter at any point in that cycle. Before entering residential treatment, after, or anywhere along the line. And they don’t have to contact us through the app, they could call us or walk-in, but for the most part, they aren’t doing that, and that’s why we like having this app. And Lisa will talk more about how that works in her court. And then it’ll come back to me and I can talk a little bit more about how this program has worked with the Friend of the Court.
And Judah, before you move on, maybe we can explain, or would you explain the University of Michigan title at the very top of the slide?
Well, the person who helped put this all together, Megan O’Neil, she’s a researcher, a fellow at the University of Michigan, affiliated with the law school and the Institute for Social Research, ISR. And she thought, “Well, how can we maybe put together Dawn Farm, Friend of the Court, other agencies to facilitate and reduce barriers to the court to justice?” She’s going to do some, conduct a study and whatever data that we come up with over the course of running this program, she’ll crunch some numbers or do a qualitative analysis depending on how many numbers we have to crunch. And we’ll be able to find out quantitatively, what happened.
That’s great, thank you so much, Judah. And thank you also to Jason for sharing about Dawn Farm and all the good work you’re doing. I want to, just a quick reminder before we turn it over to Lisa, that feel free to drop your questions into the Q&A widget, or chat us if you have any, ’cause this comes alive when you guys participate too. So, please don’t hesitate. And without further ado, we’re going to turn it over to Lisa Fusik.
Lisa Fusik, Deputy Court Administrator 14A District Court
Hello. A lot of people are familiar with online dispute resolution, but maybe not in this format. So, it has existed for a while. And the reason why it is successful and has been successful for us and hopefully will be successful with Judah and Jason as well is that it’s less intimidating. Like Judah mentioned, many of these people do not want to interact with the court and by providing a space for them that’s a safe space for them, that doesn’t require them to attend, it allows them to interact with the court on a level that they’re comfortable with.
For us, in addition to it being less intimidating and providing an access to justice for these participants, it also saves time. In some of our format, where they would normally have to come in and take time off of work or get babysitters, this allows them to interact with the court on their time. So, they can do it at midnight sitting on the couch watching their favorite show and still be able to resolve their case in a timely manner. It allows the court then to have less dockets and for their traditional officers to spend their time doing other things as opposed to seeing these people on a regular basis. We’ve found too, that it’s more timely. That by allowing people to do these things online, it allows them to complete their case in a faster and in a more accessible way.
It’s important to know that ODR is not replacing what we think of as traditional court processes. It only enhances what we already have and allows people to access it in a different way, including people that are in treatment. Obviously, they’re not always free to come to court or resolve their things in a way that traditional participants would. So, by providing this online format, they’re able to do so wherever they’re at. We have many different platforms that we’ve been able to utilize with Matterhorn and we’re going to talk about a few of those. So, if we can look at the next slide, please.
This is a snapshot of our website. We started in 2014 with the traffic, the online traffic review. And that allowed us, I got to say, when we first heard about this, we were extremely skeptical. We thought, “There’s no way that you can take a court process and put it online and still have the controls that you need to have for it to work within the confines of what is legally acceptable.” I’m here to tell you that I am a believer. It has worked in spades and it’s allowed us to connect with people that normally wouldn’t be able to utilize all of the things that the court has to offer.
Many of these platforms work hand in hand. For instance, our online warrant resolution can sometimes lead to our online misdemeanor plea. Or sometimes, our misdemeanor plea goes back to our ability to pay. And what we’ve found too is that we’ve been perfecting these as we’ve gone along and that’s how online misdemeanor plea came about. It wasn’t something that was available. And we said to Matterhorn, “Hey, this might make sense to bring this into an online format for those people that can’t come to court.” And what Matterhorn’s been able to do, too, is to link to each of these platforms individually.
So, on the next slide you can see that interaction. When you go to 14A District Court, you have these four options. The online traffic option is just like it sounds. If someone gets a speeding ticket, they’re able to resolve online perhaps on a charge that won’t abstract to their driving record and won’t therefore have the penalties that you would with insurance. Our online warrant takes the walk-in on the warrant feature that you would have in the courtroom and brings it online so people can resolve their warrants without having to come in. Online plea is just like it sounds as well, we do payable misdemeanors this way.
We also do, if somebody’s outside of the state of the Michigan and can’t come in person, they’re allowed to do it this way. And our newest platform is driving license suspended, which is something I know that a lot of Jason’s clients struggle with. They get into this cycle where their license is suspended, but they have to get to work or they have to do different things and they end up driving, and it just piles up. So, they have one suspension after another. The driving license suspended platform allows them to clear their license, plead to a lesser charge, and get back on the road to being able to have a clear license.
The one great thing that I like about all of these platforms is that you’re the driver. So, you’re allowed to set the perimeters. For instance, on the traffic, we’re very rigid on what cases we allow to come through. It can’t be a safety issue. So, if it’s a school bus or a railway crossing or a traffic accident, you can’t resolve it online. But for the traditional cases, it works really well, the officers have a say in what happens as well as the magistrates. And it’s worked really well for us. If you want to go to the next slide. So, since we started in 2014, we’ve had over 3,000 cases come through. Majority of those are traffic because that’s what’s running, but we’ve also added the online plea and the warrants.
And since 2017, we have 900 of those cases resolved. It’s just tremendous. The results speak for themselves. And not requiring people to come in, we’ve been able to handle a higher volume of cases in a more timely manner. If you look at the graphic on the upper right, it talks about the different device types that we’ve seen come through. And while 75% of them have been on the desktop, we have seen some mobile. And the interesting thing about that especially with traffic is if somebody gets a ticket on the side of the road, they can immediately go to the website, it’s listed on the bottom of all of our tickets, and they can register so that when that case gets entered, the system will ping them back and let them know that their case is ready to be dealt with. So, we’ve found that people are really open to that because they know that they can take care of their things right away. So, once something gets entered in, we can have that case closed within two to three days, which is tremendous. If you want to go to the next slide.
This slide is in particular with our traffic. The default case rate on the ODR cases is less than 1%. When you look at, we’re doing decent at being in between 20 and 25% on defaulted case that are not involved in ODR. Not our favorite statistic. But to be honest, the 1% on those other cases is tremendous because those people know ahead of time when they come in through our site that they will be offered double parking or impeding traffic, both of which will not abstract. And they know ahead of time that if they agree to be a part of this system, that they have to agree to those terms and they have to be able to pay within 48 hours. So, in order for them to get through that, they know all that upfront and therefore, when their case moves through, they’re able to address it in that timeline and we’re able to get it closed out, which brings us to the date to closure. You can see, obviously it’s vastly improved over to what we had before ODR.
When you’re talking about somebody having to set a case and that could be up to two weeks, up to a month out, and you’re able to resolve that case in two to three days, it’s going to make a tremendous difference. Obviously, people have really enjoyed the fact that they can get through all of this without having to come to court and providing that access. The customer survey data on your upper right there shows you how much people have appreciated that we’ve offered this. And again, but it speaks for itself. When you’re talking about 3,000 cases that have been able to move through in that online format, this allows people that haven’t previously had that access to do this in a way that’s more comfortable for them, that is quicker for them and that allows them to resolve their case in a less confrontational format. So, tremendous for somebody working through addiction or trying to pull things back together. We are super excited to be partners in this and we’ve seen it work. We’re really interested to see how it works from here. Okay, and I’ll turn it back over to Judah.
Thanks. Yeah. As Lisa said, initially, she was skeptical how you can do this stuff online. And when Megan from U Of M and the Matterhorn folks talked to us about doing an online thing, I was skeptical. I’m not sure how you do that. You have other, the other parent is involved. And they were talking about doing felonies, oh there’s too many. It’s too complicated. You have the prosecutor, you have the victim, etc. But then the idea of involving Dawn Farm came into the picture, it seemed like there was a real, something that overcame my skepticism anyway. And courts are slow to adapt. It wouldn’t surprise me if in 10 years, everything’s handled online. But it’s an evolution.
And we were kind of, decided to go with the hybrid approach. Since we issue the warrant, it’s a contempt warrant as I said earlier. The court owns the warrant, the court can recall it. And the warrant is not being very effective, it’s just sitting out there. And if it’s an obstacle to recovery and making someone fearful of dealing with the court, why don’t we get rid of that? So, if Dawn Farm is telling us someone is in treatment, why can’t we just recall that warrant?
And I think that we can. The other parent may or may not be happy with that, but it’s our call to make. So, we are basically using Dawn Farm as the bedding. We haven’t yet released this app into the wild, so to speak. In fact, it’s getting out there anyway. People, younger people, that’s how they deal with the world is through their phones and computers and through apps. And so, we’ve had people contact us through the app that wasn’t through Dawn Farm, it was a friend of a friend told them about the app and they shot us an email. Now, when we hear from those people, we don’t know that they put their circumstances exactly.
The app itself, I guess we can go to the next page, asks for various demographic information. They can look up their case number anonymously. We don’t know that they’re looking. They can find out what their case is and they fill out the rest of the form which asks about their circumstance, are they working, do they own anything, what are their assets, what’s their income? What’s their ability to pay? They send that to us. We take them at face value. But particularly, we take it at more than face value because Dawn Farm is assisting them with the use of the app.
So, folks who otherwise, like with Lisa’s court, they might not be comfortable coming in. They are more comfortable filling out a screen. So, just to give you an example of a story from a couple weeks ago. We got a transmittal through the app of a woman who’s a payor of support. She was in recovery. Her child was placed with the guardian. And they wanted to work out an arrangement. So, we then sent a message to the guardian. We had everyone come in and we prepared a consent order that would temporarily stop the support, at least for the duration of recovery and then it would resume again, the mom payor would then start paying again once she was back on her feet. Everyone was agreeable, the guardian was happy to do that. Now, it didn’t have to go out that way, but this is a case where I don’t know whether we were going to hear from her otherwise. And it all worked out really nicely. I believe she’s still in recovery and support is still suspended.
Then we set a tag and we set it out for a few months, depending on what the appropriate amount of time is and we’ll review the case and have people come back in and we can reestablish the appropriate support amount or restart enforcing again once the payor has the ability to pay again. So, again, we’re using the app as kind of a hybrid. It’s bedded by Dawn Farm, we also are using it with another local low income housing agency called Avalon Housing. And so, anyone who qualifies for services through Avalon Housing has already been bedded by Avalon.
So, if we hear from them, we already know this person isn’t in a position to pay their support and why not try to take that into account either? Withdraw any warrants, start a support review, support may be charging too much based on their circumstance. We can review that and then get all these processes going online.
Again, we have no problem if they want to give us a call, come in, in person or whatever, but for a lot of people, they don’t. They’d rather reach us online. In fact, we did a study a few years ago with a few of them and it was identified that folks who have anxiety disorders or suffer from anxiety in general are more likely to have problems with their child support and end up with warrants because they’re afraid of working, showing up in court, social interactions in general. Anything that can reduce that anxiety, even if it’s not a substance abuse situation.
And I’m sure Jason could tell us more about the correlations between anxiety disorders and substance abuse, but in any event, those folks who, again, may not be comfortable dealing with us in traditional, in person ways, they can reach us through the app. So, we think it’s a great tool. I can tell you other stories similar to that and it’s been very encouraging so far. We don’t have huge volume, ’cause as I say, we haven’t released the application to the general population. We haven’t put it out on our website yet because we liked the bedding. But at some point, we are going to figure out a way of screening up the ones who are being bedded through Dawn Farm and Avalon and the ones who are just contacting us on their own and we can track them differently. Right now, we’re happy with trying it out in baby steps. That’s kind of where we are.
Maybe my other presenters have other stories they’d like to share or we can open up to questions.
Yeah. So, this next slide was just a little bit of the press that, at the release of when Washtenaw County, Friend of the Court adopted this. And then I think, yeah, maybe you were ahead of me on the slides, I’m sorry if I was trailing. This is maybe where we should’ve been. This learnings and stories.
I know, Jason, you had some anecdotes or stories to share, and maybe Lisa, you have some too. Hand over to Jason first.
Sure. Sure. One that comes to mind is a guy, we’ll call him Bob. Bob came to us, did long-term residential treatment with us and ended up moving into housing, and was really an outstanding resident housing for two years. And he was doing so well in fact that we … A lot of our house managers are people who had come up through as residents in our housing program. And we asked Bob if he would consider being a house manager for us. At that point, he was two years sober and was doing really well. And as we asked him, he told us, “I have something to confess. I think I have some warrants out for me.” And we were kind of confused. And he told us that he thought he had some Friend of the Court warrants out for him, that he had a 25-year-old son and he had fallen behind in arrears and the garnishments had gotten so large at some point that while he was using.
And he just started working under the table and it had been unknown to us that he had been working under the table for most of the time in housing. It’s not something we really monitor or check pay stubs for or anything. And so we offered him the option to use the app with the Friend of the Court and submit it. He was really anxious. He was really scared. I mean, his arrears were well into five figures and it just seemed overwhelming to him. And so, they filled out the form, which usually takes 20 to 30 minutes. And in his case, it took 90 minutes ’cause he needed to take several breaks and walk off some of his stressed energy and everything. And when it came time to hit submit, he was convinced that a siren was going to pop up on the roof and SWAT teams were going to come in and arrest him. He was really anxious. And of course, none of that happened.
And then a few days later, he got a response from Friend of the Court that offered him a payment plan that was something he was able to do. And it was a great example of this being someone who was living in the shadows and was able to come out. This opened up all sorts of opportunities for getting employment that wasn’t under the table. And more importantly, him failing to meet up to his obligations was going to be a really significant barrier to his recovery. That was really going to hold him back. And this didn’t get him off the hook or give him a pass or anything, it just gave him a way to face up and be accountable for his obligations. And to me, that seems like a win all around. So, that’s-
Yeah, for sure. Just to dovetail on what Jason said. We had a mother recently, a single mom, two kids, just finished treatment. And she had three warrants and a couple of driving license suspended cases. And she didn’t even know where to begin. It was kind of like when it gets so insurmountable, you don’t even think that there’s a way around it, so you don’t even try. And their experience especially if they are someone that has multiple experiences with the court due to some issues with abuse, their experiences haven’t been great. When you talk about trying to interact with the court, it’s not their favorite thing. By providing this online system, she was able to resolve all of her cases. She’s no longer in warrant status and she now has a clear driving record. That doesn’t happen overnight, it just provides an avenue for them to resolve these types of cases.
So, by providing that online piece for her, it made it easier for her, it made it something where she’s eating a piece at a time instead of trying to eat the whole elephant at once. And by providing it in a way that’s not confrontational, she’s not afraid, like Jason said, that the helicopter sitting at the top of the building ready to arrest them. It allows them to resolve these things and it gives them hope, which is something that a lot of these people aren’t familiar with. So, by providing just the opportunity for them to resolve these types of cases, everyone should be trying to do this. And I really applaud Jason and Judah for providing this avenue for people to resolve these types of things, so that they can get their lives and be productive and helpful to their community.
Yeah. And you know what? The app is so much cheaper than a helicopter, I can tell you, for that approach.
That’s wonderful, thank you to Lisa and Jason and Judah. I know we have a little more time for your questions, please drop them into the Q&A widget and we can ask our presenters to address any specific questions you have. I know there may be some more stories, do you want to share? We do have a couple of slides that we can ask the group to go through, but really we want to make sure any questions you have are addressed. So, feel free to drop us a line. Judah, will you want to talk a little bit about next steps? I think you’ve hit some of these themes already.
Yeah. Our next steps are, as I say, we’ve added the Avalon Housing to give them access to the app, so people come through their services can work with Avalon staff to send us their information. Or they can do it on their own, but when we get it through Avalon that we know that they are an Avalon customer. We have other agencies here talking about we’d like to expand access to the app. And then one of these days, we’ll just, again, put it out there on our website for general use. We’re only about half a year into actually having rolled it out. We want to do that for at least another year or so and see what happens and then have U of M do some studies and tell us the things that we, that’ll help us understand what we’ve learned.
I know that it sounds like the Washtenaw County, Friend of the Court is taking one approach to publicity, I think the District Court 14A or 14A District Court has taken a different approach. Lisa, do you want to talk a little bit about how you’ve helped people find your service online?
Oh, sure. It’s important that people know it’s there in order for it to be utilized. So, when we started with the online ticket review, we made sure that all of our partners and law enforcement added the language to the bottom of their ticket, so it was easily accessible. And the officers were very happy to point it out that they could mediate their ticket or have a review of their ticket online, which made people maybe a little less unhappy that they had a ticket in the first place. So, they were very quick to point it out. I think it’s so important. And Judah and Jason’s example of having community partners is super helpful, so by allowing some interaction with law enforcement, public defenders office has been tremendous and with our online warrant review as well as our online pleas. We made presentations to all of their attorneys to make sure that their clients were aware that there was an online option.
And it’s something that we’re happy to work with Jason as well to make sure that this is getting out to everyone that can utilize it. The more people that utilize this online option, the less people we have to bring into the court. And that makes it a safer place for the court to be as well. The less people that you have, that you have to bring in for a traditional court hearing, the safer it is for everyone involved. So, we are all for resolving things as much as possible online.
Jason, I don’t know if you have any questions about what the … Sorry, any answers about what the reception has been like among your staff or your clients.
Oh, it’s great. And Lisa was talking about how supportive they are of expanding its use. I mean, there’s synergy as you get more courts involved, too. ‘Cause we have clients who look up their cases and right now, it’s great for people whose cases are in Washtenaw. But if their cases are elsewhere, its utility might not be, it might be more limited. So, the more courts we see involved locally, the better that’ll be for our clients.
And there are some local courts who are registered, so please maybe reach … Should they reach out to you, Jason? Or how-
If they’ve got any questions, sure.
I know at least one of them knows how to get ahold…
Fair enough. We have a question for Lisa. I’m just going to read it, so I don’t butcher it. Can you explain a bit about the process once someone uses the website? How does your court still stay involved, such as the magistrate, can you explain a little more?
Sure. We have a tremendous magistrate, Magistrate Fink. She is very involved in the system and any time we have an addition, we involve her so that we make sure that it makes sense for her. So, the workflow’s a little different depending on the platform. With the online ticket review, once the ticket is received in the system, the court goes in and sets a due date out more than 30 days, so that the ticket does not default while it’s working its way through the system. Then, the ticket ends up with the police agency for them to make a recommendation. And when they make the recommendation, they also have access to Secretary of State information as well as traditional data warehouse information that tells them what kind of driving record they have.
Important to note, too. One of the other restrictions that we put on the online ticket review was to say that if you had more than five tickets in the last three years, you were automatically disqualified from participating. Those are automatically out of our queue and we don’t even see those. They’re rejected right at the beginning.
By the time it gets to the officer, it’s already run the test of whether or not those are, it’s the type of case that we would even look at. The officer makes the recommendation, then it goes to the magistrate. The magistrate does the final review and says, “Yes, they’re approved,” or, “No, they’re not.” And I will tell you, because we have those perimeters, I would say probably 85 to 90% of those cases are approved. It goes to the clerks to update the case so that it reflects correctly on the case management system. And then it goes to the defendant and says, “Hey, your case is ready to be paid. You’ve been approved.” And it closes out automatically with payment online.
As far as warrants and the online plea, it goes straight to the magistrate and the magistrate consults with the judges if necessary, and the clerk gets it on the backend to make sure that the case is updated. And with CWS, the prosecutor’s involved and the magistrate makes sure that it flows in the correct way. So, sorry that was really shortened to try and get all four platforms in there, but if you, certainly if you want more information, feel free to send me an email and I can give you much, much more information.
Thank you, Lisa. Yeah.
I want to thank everyone. I know we’ve reached the end of our hour together. The contact information for each of our panelists is here on the screen. We will make sure that you can reach them if you would like to follow-up with any questions. We appreciate your attendance this afternoon and we so appreciate the efforts of these courts in Washtenaw County and of course Dawn Farm really making a difference in our community with our neighbors and the healing forest here in Ann Arbor in Washtenaw County. So, thank you to Jason, to Lisa and to Judah. And thank you to everyone for attending. We will see you hopefully in another webinar very soon. And please be in touch with any questions.
Learn more about increasing access to justice with ODR
- Read what 14A District Court has achieved with ODR
- Hear more from the team at 14A district court
- Learn more about ODR solutions for warrants and pleas from Matterhorn