By Corinne Murdock |
The city of Phoenix may create a new court to handle the crimes committed by the homeless. The new specialty court, the Phoenix Community Court, would cost well over $2 million to operate annually, with a $46,000 start-up cost.
Phoenix has three other specialty courts, one of which addresses crimes committed by the homeless on a county-wide basis: the Maricopa County Regional Homeless Court (MCRHC). The other two courts address crimes committed by veterans and the mentally ill, respectively.
The Phoenix City Council approved the court’s creation during last week’s Public Safety and Justice meeting. The council report noted that most homeless individuals were being cited or arrested on minor charges in the traditional criminal justice system, which the council said didn’t afford enough opportunities for services to address their needs.
The new court would take in all crimes except domestic violence offenses and assault.
At this stage in the policymaking process, the city is deciding between several entry methods for admitting eligible homeless criminals into the Phoenix Community Court.
The first method would be identification during arraignment prompted by a Phoenix Police Department citation or prosecutor’s office complaint. The second method would be through police booking an eligible individual into jail, followed by the Office of Homeless Solutions offering the individual resources as they determine eligibility for the new court.
The new court would have a Community Court Team craft a customized service plan for eligible criminals. Such a plan would include specific milestones to track progress, with regular court appearances. A criminal’s successful completion of the plan would result in either dismissal of the case, a reduced charge, or a suspended sentence.
“The Phoenix Community Court will be centered around a holistic and compassionate approach to provide long-term solutions that will positively impact individuals currently experiencing homelessness, and benefit the entire community,” stated the city plan.
To start, the new court would hire 11 full-time positions across several city departments and 10 contracted navigators. The 11 city employees would cost over $1.4 million annually, while the 10 navigators would cost $620,000 annually. Rapid response funding, which concerns staff efforts to expedite housing placement or other similar initiatives, would cost $150,000 annually. Administrative costs would total $25,000.
The 11 full-time positions include an assistant attorney, legal assistant, and casework services coordinator for the public defender’s office; two attorneys, a court or legal clerk, legal assistant, and administrative assistant in the prosecutor’s office; two bailiffs in the municipal court; and a program manager in the Office of Homeless Solutions.
The 10 contracted navigators would break down as follows: one managing the entire navigation team, two focusing on working with individuals identified in regular court proceedings, three engaging throughout the community at the early stages of the court process, and four assisting individuals entering through the jail court.
The one-time start-up costs for the new court would consist of $30,000 for three vehicles, and $15,000 for “other equipment.”