'Sense Of Freedom' For Maricopa County Homeless Court Graduates

Published: Wednesday, May 13, 2020 - 4:53pm

Over the past three years, 553 people have graduated from the Maricopa County Regional Homeless Court, a program that offers a clean slate to those willing to work.

Technically, the participants are defendants but Public Defender David Ward calls them clients. About 15 people with nonviolent misdemeanors like loitering and trespassing begin the homeless court process each month. Warrants, fines and fees can be eliminated in exchange for community service. Ward told Phoenix’s Public Safety Subcommittee that graduates experience a sense of victory and freedom. 

“These people are now free from their fines, warrants, from their criminal cases but there’s also a sense of victory in that they are now winning, people who often haven’t had an opportunity to win a lot,” he said.

Deputy City Prosecutor Bob Smith over the last three years participants completed 250,000 hours of community service, which resulted in $989,000 in fees being waived. 

“These individuals are doing what it takes to stay with the program for complete restorative justice to get back on their feet before they graduate,” he said. “It’s not just a matter of focusing on this is the amount of the court fines that are due, it’s what needs to be done to get them on their feet.”

All 26 justice courts in Maricopa County and all 23 municipal courts can participate in the regional homeless court. In-person dockets are typically held at the Human Services Campus in downtown Phoenix, but the program has been operating remotely due to the pandemic. The homeless model was used to launch a similar court in Phoenix for veterans to provide individualized services to help people succeed. 

According to the court’s website, the court, prosecution and defense review eligibility and in order to have fines, fees and warrants quashed, participants typically have to complete community service hours and an approved transitional care provider program.