Written by David Castellon
Cases of human trafficking involving minors are a growing occurrence in Fresno County courtrooms, so much so that the county court system is working to launch a juvenile human trafficking court.
“The court is needed to serve a growing number of youth trafficked throughout Fresno County,” states a press release issued today by the Fresno County Superior Court, which will use a three-year $383,651 grant from Judicial Council of California to initiate and fund the court.
Like drug court, veterans court and mental health treatment court, the juvenile human trafficking court will function as a normal court but will take in juveniles involved in or forced into acts of prostitution and other human trafficking offenses, are victimized in the child welfare system or are at high risk of exploitation.
The focus will not be on punishment but rather using court-imposed mental health-treatments programs and support services to help the children recover from the exploitation they endured and keep them out of such situations in the future.
Part of the money will be used to augment existing services to identify and serve targeted youths, which will include implementing new technology to automate the system for finding available space in youth shelters, as well as finding community services for youths.
Some of the grant also will be used to provide professional education to workers in the court system and related agencies on working with youth who have been victims of human trafficking, funding the newly-created job of service coordinator for the new human trafficking court, providing transportation to youths in the system and cover other costs.
Plans are for the new court to start late this year or early next year.
Juvenile Delinquency Presiding Judge Kimberly Nystrom-Geist will be the judicial leader of the new court, which will involve staff from Fresno County’s justice, law enforcement and social service agencies, along with community, and tribal organizations.
“Starting the new human trafficking court will complement the efforts of numerous community organizations dedicated to serving the most vulnerable in our region. The Fresno County Superior Court is honored to join them in this important work,” Nystrom-Geist said in a press release.
But before the court starts, organizers plan to hold a “system mapping and strategic planning event” with local and regional organizations that help exploited youths to determine the resources available to the Superior Court.
“This will help everyone understand [human trafficking] issues, gaps and opportunities in order to coordinate timely and efficient services now and develop new resources in the future,” the press release continues.