Part of the cycle of having to live on the streets of San Diego usually includes contact with police. Homeless individuals are often cited for illegal lodging, among other misdemeanor offenses and infractions of the law.
These contacts with law enforcement often result in citations, meaning the homeless person receives a piece of paper demanding bail payment with threat of incarceration and fines. Many homeless people are reluctant to attend court given the uncertainty of court proceedings, the threat of custody, and their daily struggle for food and shelter.
The SANDAG Criminal Justice Research Division participated in the Homeless Court project as an independent evaluator. The program is operated by the San Diego County Public Defender's Office through a grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance.
The Homeless Court Program promotes access to the court and success in sentencing. Court proceedings are held in homeless shelters. The goal of the program is to capitalize on the involvement of homeless clients with shelter programs for the fulfillment of court orders and to try to reduce the incidence of subsequent contacts with the criminal justice system.
SANDAG staff collected data on program outreach, program participation, use of graduated sanctions, sentence completion rates, and program satisfaction of clients served through the homeless court program compared with homeless defendants handled through the traditional criminal justice process.