Phoenix Court Partnership

October 26, 2023 - JJ Thomas

Researchers from the MSU School of Criminal Justice are conducting a review of the Ingham County 30th Circuit Court- Family Division’s Phoenix Court: a specialty court for youth who have been sexually exploited, trafficked, or are victims of sexual trauma.

The Phoenix Court was established in 2018 after the Michigan legislature adopted “Safe Harbor” provisions which shielded youth victims of Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking (DMST) from criminal liability. The Court's mission is to address the needs of justice-involved youth who had been identified as victims of sex trafficking and reduce youth reentry into the justice system. Prior to the Safe Harbor provisions, and the establishment of specialty courts, youth who were experiencing DMST were punished as offenders under prostitution-related charges.

When the Phoenix Court opened, the 30th Circuit Court asked the researchers to conduct an ongoing longitudinal study to determine the effectiveness of the program. With the partnership entering its 5th year, the research team has enough data to conduct preliminary analyses to determine the overall effectiveness of the program.

This review of the Phoenix Court will highlight what factors led to a successful intervention and reduced the risk of a youth ending up re-entering the justice system. The results of this study will be used in the creation of both a refereed publication to advance the limited literature on DMST specialty courts, and a technical report that can be utilized by practitioners and policy makers across the country to implement similar, successful programs.

Dr. Cavanagh, lead researcher on the project, says “This project has the potential to transform he lives of some of the most marginalized youth in our community—those who are victims of trafficking and exploitation—by providing them with the services they need to develop into healthy adults.”