The man, longtime homeless, has amassed roughly $30,000 worth of citations in Madison Municipal Court in a cycle of repeated tickets, arrest warrants and jail.
We design a lot of our punishments for a rooted citizen, not for someone who can keep neither job nor home. "In 2015, 18 homeless people were issued a combined 119 arrest warrants and owed a total of $254,148." These offenses included "public intoxication, trespass, public urination, retail theft."
By "public intoxication" they don't mean just being quietly drunk--they mean being obnoxious or disruptive while drunk. The police aren't hanging around looking for reasons to arrest people. I've waited for a bus in the middle of some noisy conflicts with no squad cars summoned. The homeless get cut a lot of slack, no matter what the advocates say.
But the statutory fines are meaningless to a homeless man, unless you seize whatever cash he has on hand to pay part of it. (I wonder if "Can you spare a couple bucks to help pay my fines?" would collect more than the traditional "Can you spare a couple of bucks for lunch"(*) or "Bus fare?")
But now, due to the efforts of Municipal Court Judge Dan Koval and nonprofits Dane County TimeBank, YWCA Madison and Operation Welcome Home and other partners, the man and others are getting a chance to get court fines reduced or dismissed through a pilot “homeless court” if they stay out of trouble and get help improving their lives.
Last year, Koval had an idea for a restorative justice court that would concentrate on issues confronting people who had a lot of cases in Municipal Court. The concept, he said, is similar to such courts for juveniles, drunken driving, drug offenses and veterans.
The city allotted $10K last year and $10K this year, and expects "three people to move through the court process in the first six months of this year." Law is expensive, I guess, at $1400/case. I wonder what will characterize the people who do stay out of trouble. And what we can do about the rest. And if anything will "work."
(*)I've been giving out coupons for half-pies at Teddywedger's, but only one on one. I need to ask the owner how they've been coming back. As an experiment I gave 2 a few times, with the suggestion "bring a friend," and I wonder whether they went twice or sold them or actually had breakfast with a friend.