Albuquerque’s Metropolitan Court has a special court that specializes in those elusive second chances.
Homeless court is held once a month a few blocks from Metro Court at St. Martin’s Hospitality Center. It focuses on what a homeless defendant has done to change his or her behaviors rather than the alleged offenses.
Here defendants are treated with compassion and respect in a setting that is much more comfortable for them. They are offered the chance to tell the court how they came to be homeless and what they are trying to do to get their lives back on track.
Homeless court adjudicates only those charged with nonviolent misdemeanors such as criminal trespass, public nuisance or drinking in public. Felonies, domestic violence and DWI charges are not heard.
Defendants must be referred by a community agency, undergoing some sort of treatment and be able to show they are making progress toward not being homeless. Because of the referral restrictions, many homeless people who commit minor crimes end up in the Metropolitan Detention Center unable to post bail or pay fines. So, homeless court’s caseload is very light – currently, only about four cases a month – while the jail is bursting at the seams.
Homeless court is a good program, but it’s not serving enough people who could benefit. All the stakeholders should work to find ways for Metro Court to find and deal with more of these minor-offense cases.
Besides offering homeless minor offenders a light at the end of the tunnel, it could help reduce MDC overcrowding and give taxpayers some relief from the cost of keeping people charged with shoplifting or littering in the county jail.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.