Zachary Ketchmark is getting another chance.
Ketchmark, 34, was arrested in April and charged with jaywalking and possession of drug paraphernalia. He said he was stopped for picking up a meth pipe from the ground.
The charges could have put Ketchmark, who is homeless, behind bars for months, his lawyer said. Instead, he now has a roof over his head and is getting counseling at an addiction treatment center. If he follows the program, he won’t do any jail time, pay any fines, and his case will be dismissed and sealed.
That’s because Ketchmark is going through North Las Vegas’ reimagined criminal justice system for low-level crimes.
“They used to not really offer too much services as far as people going homeless,” Ketchmark said. “They liked to just lock us up rather than help us, and now it seems like they’re realizing that it isn’t bad people, it’s just, addiction starts changing people’s minds and really, just, people need help.”
Ketchmark said he has used meth in the past, but that was a long time ago. He still smokes marijuana, he said, but he sees the value in stopping and is accepting the help.
Breaking the cycle
North Las Vegas’ move toward rehabilitation-focused justice started with renovating and reopening its jail. The detention center, which opened last July, was shuttered in 2012 due to budget constraints.
North Las Vegas is using a holistic approach to connect people with the services they need, City Attorney Micaela Moore said.
The jail, court, North Las Vegas Police Department and city prosecutors are working together to get to the underlying causes that lead people to criminal offenses such as petty larceny and trespassing.
The goal is to break the cycle of people going through the justice system.
Now, when officers encounter someone they suspect of committing a crime, they can flag that person as a candidate for the diversionary court. Moore said the city is focusing on those who are suspected of nonviolent crimes.
“These are our neighbors, our community members that keep coming back here, and they obviously need some help so that they don’t,” said Renee Baker, director of the city jail.
Baker said her facility is helping people get on a path toward finding a job and it’s helping them get signed up for Medicaid so they will have health insurance when they are released.
The jail is also planning to start a substance abuse program that will help people who struggle with drug use get connected with resources so they can get more support once released, she said.
That type of help is offered whether someone is participating in the new court or not.
But once a candidate for the diversionary court is booked into the jail, a community services specialist can start getting them connected with services ahead of their day in front of the judge, Baker said.
‘The right thing to do’
Specialty courts are not new to Southern Nevada, but North Las Vegas is different because those courts are consolidated into one, Judge Chris Lee said.
The diversionary court helps people connect with services for housing, addiction counseling, mental and behavioral health, job training, education and veterans outreach programs.
But it’s not a get-out-of-jail free card, Assistant Court Administrator Erin Tellez said. If someone refuses to comply with their program, that may result in a warrant being issued or removal from the program.
Lee said success for the program means having people who appear in his courtroom not committing additional crimes. And so far, he likes what he is seeing.
“I mean, really, in the first 60 days of us kind of building the foundation and kind of building the bones for this, in the cases that we’ve had, I think that we’ve had tremendous success,” Lee said.
The court recently held a warrant-quashing event, with 200 spots quickly snapped up. Still, Lee acknowledges there are some who may be skeptical of the court’s intentions. He said he will earn his credibility by carrying out the mission of restorative justice.
“They’re not going to believe it until it happens,” Lee said.
Moore, the city attorney, said just more than half of the people who have been identified as possible participants in the court are receptive to the idea. Some people, she said, just resist the extra help.
But, she said, North Las Vegas’ new approach to justice gets at the core of what government is supposed to do: provide basic services and help residents, even when it isn’t the easiest route.
“It’s the right thing to do,” Moore said.