Updated: January 15, 2020 12:27 PM
Created: January 15, 2020 09:34 AM
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court has 12 different specialty courts that work to address the root causes of what brings a person into the criminal justice system.
One of them is the Outreach Court, which helps the homeless community clear misdemeanor warrants that may be holding them back from obtaining housing or a job.
"If somebody is working or has a home and able to move forward with their life, the chances of them re-offending drop dramatically," said Metro Court Judge Maria Dominguez.
The whole process happens outside of court. It begins with a homeless person making an effort to move forward. They could be receiving services like substance abuse treatment, job training or housing. The service provider would then refer them to Outreach Court to work on clearing any legal barriers they may have.
"If they've decided to change their life and engage in services and work with a provider, and a provider then advocates in their behalf – they're willing to trust providers, the courts and we're able to move forward as a community," Judge Dominguez said.
For 90 days, the service provider will give the judge regular updates. At the end of it all, the Outreach Court team – which is also made up of the prosecution and defense – will decide whether to dismiss the charges.
"We've had 72 referrals in the past year," said Tiffany Archuleta, the program project specialist for Outreach Court. "We've had 25 graduates go through the program successfully."
A report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) shows a 27% increase in New Mexico’s homeless population from 2018 to 2019, and a 57.6% increase in chronic homelessness. That's the cycle Archuleta wants to break.
"We have seven approved providers," Archuleta said. "We're working with about 35 referring agencies and that number is growing every day."
However, the court says to break that cycle – they need more providers to jump in and help the homeless community.
"We'll see those numbers grow and we'll see more success stories," Archuleta said.
If you would like to get involved with the Outreach Court, click here.
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