The Gun Court initiative was launched by the Honorable Judge Sandra Ross Storm in January of 1995 following record numbers of gun related homicides in Jefferson County in 1994. The total number of deaths for the 1994 year was at an all-time high homicide rate for juveniles 18 and under in Jefferson County.
The Gun Court is a collaborative effort of many parts of the community including: the Alabama Department of Youth Services, the Birmingham Police Department, the Sheriff's Department, Jefferson County Coroner's Office, the Mayor's Office of Youth Development, the Birmingham and Jefferson County school systems, the local private sector and the Court.
The goal of the initiative is to provide for the public safety by reducing the number of violent crimes and handgun offenses in Jefferson County. Once a juvenile is adjudicated for a gun-related charge, the child will be held in detention, and they can either be sent to a 30 day boot camp or be committed to the Alabama Department of Youth Services. If this is the child's first offense, they will be ordered to comply with the Intensive Supervision Program. ISP is a special term of probation that the child will complete after attending boot camp. It includes electronic monitoring, a curfew, daily check-ins, and home visits.
The Gun Court concept identifies parents extremely important to the intervention process. Therefore, an important goal is to require all parents of adjudicated youth to participate in a ten-week program of classes specifically designed for Gun Court. Parents ordered to attend the Parents Education Class for Gun Court are notified of the policies and procedures of the Court. Each parent is expected to comply with the court order. Failure for the parents to comply with the order can result in incarceration time for the parent. The juveniles are also required to attend classes with topics focusing on juvenile issues such as consequences of guns, gun safety, conflict resolution and anger management. The classes are taught by Probation Services staff, volunteers from Coroner's Office, Sheriff's Department and Glenwood Parenting partnering with Impact Family Counseling.
The Gun Court concept calls for informing the community, juveniles, and parents of the initiative. One supposition is that informing all juveniles and parents of the potential consequences of possessing guns will result in fewer juveniles carrying guns. Others argued that juveniles will not listen and must be shown. There was agreement that advertising the initiative has value. Two pamphlets were designed. One informs juveniles that they will be incarcerated for gun offenses. The other warns parents to monitor their children and seek help if they suspect involvement with guns.
Another component of the Gun Court is to offer an outreach program to the Schools of Birmingham and Jefferson County. This allows a representative from the Gun Court to go to the schools and educate the youth on the concerns and problems regarding juveniles and guns. Since October 1997 over 2000 students have been educated through lectures, videos and handouts developed by the Court, about the Gun Court and its policies.
In July 1999, the Department of Justice awarded Jefferson County Commission a grant to provide for the expansion of existing Gun Court services. The plan included offering consistent services in the Bessemer Division of Jefferson County similar to that offered in the Birmingham Division. Additional staff was provided in an Assistant Coordinator for the program and an Aide in the Bessemer Division to support the probation staff in monitoring the juvenile gun offenders. The second focus of the expansion is to enhance the School/Community Outreach component throughout Jefferson County. A goal of this project is to reach at least 5000 students in Jefferson County by June 2000 in a strong proactive approach to reducing gun violence.
For more information about Gun Court, please contact 205-325-5824.
Jefferson County Family Court
120 2nd Ct. North, Birmingham AL 35204
Birmingham (205) 325-5491
Bessemer (205) 481-4225