Phoenix creates specialty court for people experiencing homelessness

Jul 7, 2023, 1:03 PM

The city of Phoenix is creating a specialty court to handle certain cases involving people experien...

(KTAR News Photo/Taylor Kinnerup)

(KTAR News Photo/Taylor Kinnerup)

PHOENIX – The city of Phoenix is creating a specialty court to handle certain cases involving people experiencing homelessness, providing them with services beyond what the traditional criminal justice system offers.

“Too often, people experiencing homelessness might be cycling through the justice system with repeat offenses … such as trespassing, loitering, petty theft, things like that, and this program isn’t to take away accountability for those charges. It’s to add additional resources and opportunity for people while they’re taking those steps of accountability,” Scott Hall, deputy director of Phoenix’s Office of Homeless Solutions, told KTAR News 92.3 FM last week.

The Phoenix Community Court will be the city’s fourth therapeutic court system, joining Veterans Court, Behavioral Health Court and Maricopa County Regional Homeless Court.

“This is another therapeutic court model which is intended to get services to individuals that are cycling through the justice system to see if they can reduce recidivism, get people connected mainly to housing, shelter and other options to help them be successful in their lives,” Hall said.

The Phoenix City Council authorized the Community Court by an 8-1 vote during a June 28 meeting. Councilman Jim Waring was the lone dissenter.

How much will Community Court cost Phoenix?

The specialty court will cost an estimated $2.3 million a year to operate. The city plans to hire 11 full-time positions plus 10 contracted navigators to establish the system.

The city prosecutor’s office will review cases to determine if the defendant is eligible for Community Court.

Individuals who accept entry into the specialty court will receive a customized service plan with milestones such as attaining more stable housing.

If they complete the plan successfully — aka graduation — the case will be dismissed, the charges will be reduced or the the subject will receive a suspended sentence.

Those who don’t complete their service plan will return to regular court proceedings.

“This is our opportunity to provide that help that they want and they need,” Hall said.

What Phoenix departments are involved in new court system?

The program will be a collaboration among multiple city agencies, including the municipal courts, police department and prosecutor and public defender offices.

“We’re looking to better see how we can serve people within the city of Phoenix as they go through the justice system,” Hall said.

Phoenix Community Court is part of the city’s ongoing efforts to address its growing homelessness problem.

The initiatives included the creation of a structured campground for people who are being cleared out of the Zone homeless encampment but refuse to move to an indoor shelter.

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Colton Krolak contributed to this report.

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Phoenix creates specialty court for people experiencing homelessness