Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel F. Conley today announced the start of a pilot program that aims to help homeless individuals or those at risk of becoming homeless who are undergoing substance abuse or mental health treatment resolve misdemeanor offenses, nonviolent felonies, and outstanding warrants with the goal of aiding their reintegration into society.
The Homeless Court Program seeks to provide an opportunity for the homeless or those at risk of becoming homeless, who are engaged in a substance abuse or mental health treatment program and are committed to sobriety, to address open cases and warrants in Suffolk County at a monthly court hearing in the Lemuel Shattuck Hospital.
The Suffolk DA’s Office together with the West Roxbury Division of the Boston Municipal Court Department, the Lemuel Shattuck Hospital, and the nonprofit organization, hopeFound, established the Homeless Court Program at no additional cost to taxpayers as a way to remove obstacles that can cause homelessness, and provide a path out of homelessness for those who are trying to transition to a more stable life.
Because access to housing, employment, and public benefits often requires that an individual have no criminal record, those at risk of becoming homeless can find themselves closed off from opportunities, which can lead to homelessness. Once homeless, men and women who have open cases or warrants often have even more difficulty obtaining valuable services that could help them become self-supporting. These difficulties, together with a fear of the court process, can act as barriers, perpetuating the cycle of homelessness.
“This partnership provides homeless men and women who have committed misdemeanor or nonviolent offenses in Suffolk County with an opportunity to change the direction of their lives,” Conley said. “This program allows people who are homeless, or people who are in treatment and at risk of becoming homeless, a chance to resolve warrants and misdemeanors so that they can hopefully go on to live self-supporting, sustainable lives.”
At the first session of the court today, four defendants with a total of seven misdemeanor cases were resolved after a hearing during which advocates presented evidence to the court showing that the defendant had been compliant with all treatment programs.
Candidates who are eligible for the Homeless Court Program are homeless men and women or individuals at risk of becoming homeless, who are engaged in a treatment program through the Lemuel Shattuck Hospital, are in good standing in the program, who are recommended by the service provider, and who agree to participate in and complete a treatment program tailored to their specific needs.
Once a month, staff members from the West Roxbury Division of the Boston Municipal Court, the Probation Department, the Lemuel Shattuck Hospital, a Suffolk County assistant district attorney and a defense attorney provided by the Committee for Public Counsel Services, will attend a formal court hearing at the hospital. Cases are resolved by joint recommendation of the prosecutor and the defendant’s attorney upon proof that the offender has substantial compliance in, or has completed a treatment program, with the goal of providing an alternative to imprisonment. The next court date is Jan. 20, 2011.
“We’ve seen programs like these work well in other states, and I believe that this program will also do well here in Suffolk County,” Conley said. “It is an effort to help people get back on their feet and move forward with their lives, while also taking these cases out of the overburdened court system and resolving them in an expeditious way.”