Nashville Gives Tough Sentences To Homeless: Is It Fair?


A controversial Nashville police program aimed at reducing crimes by homeless people has saved money since it was launched this year, but it also has drawn pointed criticism that it violates due process rights and does little to curb quality-of-life offenses in the downtown area, The Tennessean reports. The program focuses on people like Richard Stewart, who last week completed a 20-day jail sentence. He was found seeking shelter under the loading dock behind a downtown hotel during a thunderstorm, and arrested on charges of criminal trespassing and littering.

Stewart's sentence was inflated because he has been labeled a chronic offender under the initiative created by Deputy Chief Damian Huggins. Huggins said 46 people were responsible for 3 percent of arrests. His solution was to push for stricter jail sentences for those who were arrested 17 times or more in 2010. The policy has succeeded in reducing misdemeanor crimes but drawn the ire of defense attorneys and advocates who say the homeless are being targeted unfairly and sentenced too harshly for minor crimes. Public Defender Dawn Deaner says Nashville's homeless are unfairly targeted because of the chronic offender list. Homeless advocates say government resources would be better spent diverting chronic offenders to shelters, sobriety houses, and other social services.

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