When I asked a couple of weeks ago whether roving courts is a good or crazy idea, I leaned toward good idea but wondered how the process would work.
We didn’t have to wait long for the answer. Utah has launched its Outreach Court, a roving courtroom that is traveling to homeless encampments at the same time health and housing service agencies make their visits.
This reminds me, at a governmental level, of how here in the Chicago area, homeless shelters have teams of doctors, veterans’ benefits, housing advocates, and in some cases pro bono lawyers that make regular visits.
In Salt Lake City, these services visits are timed before there are large-scale sweeps of the sites.
As the Deseret News reports:
The roving court is a recognition that it can be hard for those without stable housing to make sure they keep up with court dates, advocates say. The charges they face are often tied to their situation, including camping on public property, staying in a park after closing and having an open container of alcohol in public.
Among other things the judge and court personnel can help clear open warrants so individuals can pass background checks to obtain longer-term housing. Defense attorneys and prosecutors join by video in these mobile courthouses.
The Deseret News notes that others who’ve heard about the courts are showing up as well. There is an emphasis on no handcuffs or arrests unless necessary for public safety.
“Part of it is really trust. We want them to feel safe coming to us,” Judge Jeanne Robison is quoted saying.
From the article and Salt Lake City Justice Court posts, the plan is to continue evolving these mobile courts and increase their frequency. This is yet another example of Utah forging ahead and testing ways to access-to-justice options rather than waiting for someone else to create a solution.
Featured image posted on Twitter by Salt Lake City Justice Courts.