Justice reform Saturday community Dockets and Justice Right on the Spot

(center) Judge Rachel Bell and Judge Melissa Blackburn along with  Pro Bono Volunteer supporters. (courtesy photo)

(center) Judge Rachel Bell and Judge Melissa Blackburn along with
Pro Bono Volunteer supporters. (courtesy photo)

When Judge Rachel Bell is finished with her responsibilities on the bench, she is very passionate and committed to working on preventive and diversionary justice with the General Sessions Music City Community Court, Division VIII (GSMCCC). You will see her working with kids, young adults and in the community with a solid commitment to break down the school-to-prison pipeline and recidivism rates.

When asked why she started the GSMCCC, she said: “It all starts with education and providing adequate resources.” She also said she has been committed to preventive and diversionary justice since she was a young lawyer. Growing up in North Nashville allowed her to see people from all walks of life and “the serious need for restoration and community justice.”

Over the last two years, Judge Bell has attended the National Association of Drug Court Professionals Conference (NADCP), Judicial Decision Making Conference and the Community Justice 2016 International Summit; all in efforts to learn and gain insight from other judges and community courts around the world, selecting classes focused on preventive justice, restoration and rehabilitation.

“One of the reasons why individuals enter our criminal justice system is rooted in drug dependency. While we have over 3,500 persons that are on probation annually, less than 400 agree to attend drug court, veterans or mental health court. I am very committed to working on and implementing programs for all persons that enter the criminal justice system. At the conferences I have had the opportunity to receive education to stay abreast of the law and new initiatives to assist our local community in matters of preventive and diversionary justice, justice reform and proper re-entry back into society,” Judge Bell said.

Some of the classes attended
1) Wellness and Healing Court Session — Dealing with Historical Trauma from Native Americans and African Americans (slavery)
2) Childhood Crisis and Bridging the Gap – School-to-Prison-Pipeline
3) Role of the Judge — Beyond the Black Robe and Community Involvement
4) Problem-Solving — Engaging the Community and Addressing the Needs of Justice Involved Women
5) Target Population — Doing the Right Things, for the Right People
6) Historically Disadvantaged Groups — Justice For All, Actual or Aspirational?
7) Race, Culture, Bias and The Courts
8) Progressive Policing and Its Impact on Urban Diversionary Court Programming
9) Tellin’ It Raw & Keepin’ It Real 2.0 — How to Reach and Teach Your Hip-Hop Acculturated Client (Using the Stages of Change)
10) Re-Entry to the 10th Power — An Innovative Approach to Reentry Courts

On October 1, the General Sessions Music City Community Court and Judge Rachel L. Bell held two Saturday Dockets.

Saturday Dockets were created by Judge Bell to provide access to justice right on the spot every 4-6 weeks in various locations around Nashville/ Davidson County.

Saturday — Community Service Return Docket
Participants received four hours community service credit participating in Mayor Megan Barry’s Fall Clean Up picking up liter on a stretch of Clarksville Highway, the highway adopted by Judge Rachel in participation with the Tennessee Department of Transportation Adopt-a-Highway Program.

Pro Se Indigency Docket and Expungement Clinic held at Watson Grove Missionary Baptist Church

Over 100 participants attended the Pro Se Indigency Docket and Expungement Clinic at Watson Grove Missionary Baptist Church, processing over 500 criminal records to be expunged and reviewing affidavits of offenders to declare persons indigent—thereby waiving over $60,000 in court costs.

Judge Rachel Bell and her community clean up crew.

Judge Rachel Bell and her community clean up crew.

Attorney Amber Floyd, the Pro Bono Volunteer Coordinator for the General Sessions Music City Community Court, who works at Wyatt Tarrant & Combs, LLP garnered support from over 10 lawyers and two law school students that provided legal advice and services. Volunteers included: Galen Gray and Shundra Crumpton, law school students from Nashville School of Law and Vanderbilt Law School. Attorney volunteers included: Shana Berkley, I’Ashea Myles-Dinigo, Jean Xiao, Liz Sitgreaves, Grover Collins, Princess Page, Gay Levine Eisen, Ahsaki Baptist, Stephanie Williams, Alicia Cottrell and Sheryl Guinn.

Criminal Court Clerk Howard Gentry and Judge Melissa Blackburn, General Sessions Court Judge who presides over Veterans and Mental Health Court were also in attendance and are both very committed to justice reform as well.

“Past mistakes should not define and limit a person’s entire life for the rest of his or her life,” said Amber Floyd, attorney. “However, a criminal record can do exactly that. It can make it very difficult to obtain housing, employment, and a host of other opportunities for advancement. This is precisely why the General Sessions Music City Community Court, Division VIII, Expungement Clinic, with Judge Rachel L. Bell is so vitally important to the community. It gives people who have been in the criminal justice system the chance to relieve a substantial burden that thwarts their best efforts to thrive.”

The next Saturday, Pro Se Indigency Docket and Expungement Clinic will be hosted by Nehemiah Missionary Baptist Church at the Boys & Girls Club located in the middle of Andrew Jackson Community on Saturday, November 19, 916 16th Ave. North, Nashville, Tenn, 37208. Registration starts at 8-10 am and will be limited to the first 100 persons that register. The Pro Se Indigency and Expungement Clinic will start at 10 am, CDT.

For more information about the General Sessions Music City Community Court, visit: www.gscourt.nashville.gov/about-us/judges/division-viii-judge-rachel-l-bell.