Benton Harbor: Court-Watching to Counteract Injustice to Homeless

The Benton Harbor NAACP has been working with the homeless in a combination court-watching program.  It has been a tremendous success.

There is also an effort to take the court system to the neighborhood.  We want court sessions for the homeless defendants convened in a homeless shelter to resolve warrants and misdemeanor offenses without jail sentences.

The NAACP would like to build strong relationships between the courts, local shelters, service agencies, prosecutors, and court-appointed attorneys.  It seeks to resolve the problems that homelessness represents with a practical solution.

The NAACP proposal is for the prosecutor and the defense attorney to review the cases before the court hearings.  The court sentencing for fines, cost, and custody would be substituted by participating in agency programs.  The program is designed for efficiency.  The majority of the cases would be heard and resolved.  The people would be sentenced in one hearing.  The initial referrals to a homeless court would originate in the shelters and service agencies.

This program is designed to counteract the effect of criminal cases pushing homeless defendants further outside society.  This program combines a progressive plea bargain system, an alternative sentencing structure, assurance of no jail and proof of program activities to address a full range of misdemeanor offenses.  It brings homeless people back into society.  The homeless need justice too.    –Rev. E. Pinkney, 269-925-0001

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