Would shelter-based courts help homeless people? - Your opinion?

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Tue, 1 Jun 1999 23:01:30 -0700 (PDT)

Would shelter-based courts help homeless people where you live?
Why or why not?

Have such special courts for nuisance crimes been tried where you live?
Did the results impel your community more toward equal justice for all??

See related article below:

FWD  CNN [Cable News Network] - May 31, 1999 - USA


OCEANSIDE, California (CNN) -- In an effort to clear court dockets and give
poor people a clean slate, a California judge is leaving his courthouse
behind for homeless shelters.

San Diego County Superior Court Judge David Ryan recently convened his
court inside Brother Benno's homeless shelter in Riverside, California.
Among the dozens of homeless offenders who appeared before the judge was
Terry Anderson.

Anderson had four cases against him resolved during the court session.

"OK, this goes back to 1995. Tell you what I'll do:  I'll convert this to a
$50 fine, community service -- five hours at $10 an hour," Ryan offered in
a plea bargain.

Anderson agreed to do the community service by helping out at the homeless

"It's just a matter of getting these cleared up and getting my driver's
license back, and I'll be back in the work force and taking care of
business," Anderson said.

In two-days, the judge cleared 492 cases against 141 homeless men and
women, many of whom suffer a wide range of personal problems -- from drug
addiction to mental illness.

At the shelter-turned-courtroom, defense attorneys helped the homeless
arrange plea agreements.

"These are cases that are infractions," said defense attorney Susan
Burkland. "But they pile up and they (the homeless) live in fear that
they're going to jail for these."

During this special court session, which is one of more than 200 outreach
programs in California, all plea bargains avoided jail time.

The state's 1,580 judges are encouraged to develop such innovations in
dealing with hard-to-reach offenders.

"Everybody we've seen here today has an aversion to authority figures.
They're afraid of their government," said Ryan. "So the government has to
reach out to that particular population if we expect to do anything with
the number of cases we have here."

Supporters said this new twist in the legal system is not  give-away justice.

"They're pleading guilty to traffic offenses, they're pleading guilty to
illegal camping and we're getting them to do community service," said
Deputy District Attorney Jim Valliant. "They are not getting away with
these crimes, by any means."

But the program did help clear some of the 8,000 to 10,000 minor offenses
and infractions that are filed in this part of San Diego County each month.

And they gave some of the system's petty offenders a clean slate and a
chance to keep it that way.

[Correspondent Jim Hill contributed to this report.]


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