CROWN POINT | Prison inmates on the path to re-entering their communities and the job market will have more than 700 pieces of "gently used" professional clothing to choose from, thanks to the Lake County Bar Association and local businesswomen.
At least four van loads of clothing were delivered Friday to Lake Criminal Court Judge Salvador Vasquez and Lake Criminal Court Magistrate Kathleen Sullivan, who share presiding over the burgeoning Community Transition Court caseload.
The court, one of the state's growing number of "problem-solving" courts, began operating in May 2011 with a $106,250 federal grant from the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute.
Such courts had their genesis in the 1990s, with the goal of addressing offenders' specific needs that could not be handled in traditional court settings.
The oldest and most common are drug courts, but courts of the type innovated by Vasquez in Lake County also assist convicted felons who have served their sentence and are in the process of being released back into their communities.
Lake County's Community Transition Court, or CTC, is assumed to become self-supporting at some point, but the court is currently being funded with a combination of federal grant money and the county's Community Corrections program.
"We couldn't do it without them," Vasquez said of the assistance of Community Corrections, which assists in funding the positions of CTC's administrator and two case managers.
The court's 2012 federal funding was reduced to $85,000 but increased this year to $100,000, still short of the $170,000 goal.
Kellie Bittorf, Community Corrections executive director, said the increase was likely due to the court's increased caseload.
State statute permits private donations, cash or otherwise, to problem-solving courts, which is where the Lake County Bar Association and the Merrillville chapter of the Indiana Federation of Business and Professional Women come in.
"One of the initiatives this year for the Lake County Bar is to get more involved in the community," said Michael Jasaitis, the association's president.
"Judge Vasquez and I spoke, and it made sense that this would be a great beneficiary for a service project," he said.
Not sure if four vans would be enough to get everything delivered, Jasaitis said it looked as if the idea was a success.
Titled S.O.S. (Settling Our Suits), the project was assisted by gift certificates from area retailers to winners in men's and women's divisions.
Recruited to support the court by a former public defender, the businesswomen's group has donated clothing, toiletries, cleaning supplies and $1,400 in cash, said Judy Love, CTC coordinator.
Vasquez is also actively seeking donations of bicycles for those without other means of transportation. To help, call Love at (219) 755-3850.
Vasquez said of the more than 10 "graduates" of the court's program since its inception, none has become a repeat offender.