Across the hall from his old seat as mayor on Englewood City Council, Joe Jefferson has donned the judge’s robes and brought with him a passion for helping defendants succeed. “Our primary goal …
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Colorado Community Media's ongoing series, “No Place to Call Home,” explores the reasons behind the rise in homelessness in Englewood and the response from various parts of the community, from businesses and city government to nonprofits, the faith community and schools.
For part 1 and the rest of part 2 of the series, which explores the relationship between the homeless, law enforcement and other public institutions, click here.
Across the hall from his old seat as mayor on Englewood City Council, Joe Jefferson has donned the judge’s robes and brought with him a passion for helping defendants succeed.
“Our primary goal is two-fold,” Jefferson said, referencing a court’s job to deter crimes. “But we also have this restorative and rehabilitative function, and that’s where I feel we can make some substantial improvements.”
At the Englewood Municipal Court, Jefferson is leading a push to offer more positive opportunities to resolve cases and lessen the financial blow the homeless may receive. He’s also working to connect homeless defendants to local resources — food banks, nonprofits and mental health assistance.
The goal is to help all defendants improve their lives, but homeless defendants may need more attention, said Jefferson, who served as Englewood’s mayor from 2015 until January of this year.
“They’re dealing with housing, food, (need for) IDs — transportation is a big one,” Jefferson said. And for those who need mental health and substance-use assistance but don’t have the money, “I feel like I need to provide more resources in that regard.”
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As part of that effort, the court refers defendants to AllHealth Network, a behavioral health-care provider, to get treatment as part of alternative sentences — a way to avoid jail time, Jefferson said. He plans to meet with AllHealth to discuss connecting defendants to help more directly.
For defendants’ community service, Jefferson wants to enlist local programs the homeless can serve and be served by, such as HOPE food pantry on South Broadway or Café 180, a restaurant that provides meals in exchange for volunteer service for those who can’t pay and which often serves homeless patrons.
“People like that who have a true affinity for our defendants and our local community — that’s who I want to start with,” Jefferson said.
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The court currently allows service hours at places throughout the Denver-metro area.
Aside from emphasizing community service, the court has lowered bonds it imposes on defendants, particularly for those who are financially struggling.
If a person is in financial need and has a minor offense — such as a first-time open container — the court sets bond as low as $50, Jefferson said. Normally, that amount could be $100 for a person who has a home, but it’s always a case-by-case basis, he said.
Bond comes into play if a person misses court or pleads “not guilty.”
It’s common for homeless defendants to miss court dates, Jefferson said, and the court is considering new technology that may be able to help, such as an automated reminder phone call or text message. The docket also could be put online so a defendant can check the date.
For Jefferson, adjudicating the homeless with compassion is a matter of looking at an old metaphor, Maslow’s pyramid of needs — a hierarchy of factors in life that includes safety, self-esteem and physiological well-being.
“What I realize is these people are on the base level,” he said, “and I can’t expect them to pay for a class that’s going rehabilitate them” if they don’t know where they’ll eat or sleep.
It’s important to remember “the human element” and that some of the city’s homeless were born and raised in Englewood, Jefferson said. It’s important “not just to punish, but to restore and rehabilitate.”
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