Thursday afternoon, Republican Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson signaled that she isn't ready to cede the role of criminal justice reformer to her Democratic opponent in this year's general election. John Creuzot, who won a narrow lead in the Democratic primary but may face a recount, was an instrumental force behind the creation of Dallas specialty courts for those addicted to drugs and suffering from mental illness. Johnson, however, has a progressive program of her own. Starting this week, the Dallas County District Attorney's Office will run a homeless diversion court intended to help the city's homeless population stay out of jail and get the services they need.
"I wanted to create a program that would reduce recidivism in Dallas County's homeless population, thus making the county safer for all the citizens we serve," Johnson said Thursday.
To qualify for the diversion court, homeless individuals are required to work with service providers in the area to pick up the skills they need to stay out of jail. If they are successful, they can be referred to the homeless court, where prosecutors will work with them to get most, if not all, of their cases dismissed. According to Johnson's office, the program is the first of its kind in county history.
"I believe that through this unique program, we can address the problems facing the homeless community," Johnson said. "By dismissing qualified cases, we can help this population become stable citizens as they will now have the opportunity to positively contribute to Dallas County."
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Many of the city's homeless have outstanding warrants, thanks to tickets acquired while sleeping in public or panhandling near a roadway, which means they can't get state identification. That makes it hard to vote, among other things, and leaves them vulnerable during any interaction with law enforcement.
The new homeless court is Johnson's second major initiative intended to clean Dallas County residents' records. Earlier this month, Johnson's office hosted its second Expunction Expo. At the event, attorneys helped some of those with Dallas County criminal records begin the process of expunging their records.
Johnson's announcement comes on the heels of newly rolled out city of Dallas program, End Panhandling Now, which seeks to push Dallas' homeless to service providers through more frequent, personal contact with the city and an education campaign intended to get residents and visitors to stop giving cash to panhandlers.
Johnson's office hasn't revealed when Homeless Diversion Court hearings will begin taking place, but when they do, they'll take place at the Dallas Central Library on Young Street.