24 Aug FOX 28: Chatham County leaders look at ways to implement Homeless Court
CHATHAM COUNTY, Ga. (WTGS) — Chatham County judges recently met with community stakeholders to discuss the implementation of a Homeless Court in the county.
The court would provide those in the community experiencing homelessness to address their legal matters.
Jennifer Dulong serves as the executive director for the Chatham-Savannah Authority for the Homeless, and she explained the complexity of the justice system when it comes to the homeless.
“You can miss a court date and a bench warrant is issued, and then they miss another court date, so another bench warrant is issued,” Dulong said. “So oftentimes, something that started out as a simple justice involvement becomes complex.”
Superior Court Judge Lisa Colbert said from a court perspective they face certain challenges starting at the very beginning of the process.
“When we have homeless individuals charged, oftentimes because they have no address or stable address, getting notices to them and back to court to get their cases fully resolved is a challenge,” Colbert said. “Sometimes it just doesn’t happen, especially if they don’t get arrested again, which is good and bad because you don’t want them to get arrested, but sometimes that’s the only way we are able to get them back into court.”
The Homeless Court program is a special voluntary superior court session that is held in a community setting.
While this initiative is in its early stages, Judge Colbert says non-violent offenses such as misdemeanors and ordinances would be considered under the homeless courts. She adds that the District Attorney’s office will play a vital role in determining what cases will be handled in homeless court.
“That person [would] work with the court to address all their charges at once, and then that person can still move forward and get enrolled in programs and services and not have justice involvement as a barrier to prevent that person from becoming financially stable or getting into housing or getting into other programs and services,” Dulong said.
Homeless Court models use a combination of a progressive plea bargain system, sentencing structure, and proof of program activities to address certain criminal offenses.
“Some of the models we’re looking at, they meet twice a month in a community setting like a homeless shelter or a provider center that already services homeless individuals that’s accessible and more user-friendly to folks who are without a roof right now,” Judge Colbert said.
Judge Colbert says this initiative aims to eliminate barriers those experiencing homelessness face.
“If interacting with service providers, the court becomes more aware of what we can do differently to do the job we’re required to do as judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys, but not get in the way of the progress someone needs to make in other programs that there dealing with, [and] that’s a win,” Judge Colbert said.