How Boston’s Homeless Court Aims to End Cycling Through Justice System


Launched in late 2010, Boston’s Homeless Court aims to serve the unique needs of homeless defendants, who often find themselves cycling through the court system for minor, nonviolent offenses, or in contempt for failing to respond to summonses they often don't receive because they're living on the streets, says the Boston Globe. It's a gentler form of justice, but no quick fix. Defendants who volunteer for the court are required to make a yearlong commitment. During that time, they get mental health and substance abuse counseling and a bed, or, for those with more severe mental health or addiction issues, at a hospital. Defendants without a high school diploma are offered tutoring and GED prep classes. All are required to brush up their job skills or learn new ones.

The payoff? Those who complete the program have their fines forgiven, minor records wiped clean, and current cases dismissed — as close to a fresh start as they are likely to get. At this point, Boston's program is small. Since Judge Kathleen Coffey began hearing cases in early 2011, 19 defendants — ages 19 to 66 — with 33 pending criminal cases have been through the program.

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