One could describe the Long Beach City Prosecutor’s office as an innovative incubator when it comes to getting high frequency offenders off the streets.
In 2017, high frequency offenders arrested in Long Beach were found to be struggling with drug abuse or mental health issues. Many of the individuals were also homeless. That’s when the City Prosecutor’s office started a creative pilot alternative sentencing program.
Long Beach City Prosecutor Doug Haubert explained that the Priority Access Diversion (PAD) effort represented a new way to deliver services to some of the most vulnerable people in our community, including Downtown. “It’s a health-based approach designed to make neighborhoods safer and get people off the streets,” Haubert says.
Instead of releasing people right back to the streets or sentencing them to jail from several weeks to several months, the program provided a way to match those experiencing homelessness with an intensive live-in program that targets any underlying drug abuse or mental illness challenges.
A review of the first 40 PAD cases in 2018 showed 83 percent were still in residential services 60 days later, a significant positive result.
The PAD program, which is voluntary, features a collaboration with mental health organizations. For example, clinicians with the Los Angeles Centers for Alcohol and Drug Abuse (LACADA) provide outpatient counseling, as well as help with securing housing and transportation when needed.
“We now have two social workers on staff. We have mental health clinicians screening inmates. We started these programs as an effort to get ahead of the homeless problem,” added Haubert. “It is not only the compassionate thing to do, but we are also doing this to keep our downtown area safe for residents, business owners, and visitors.”
Haubert credited the DLBA and Downtown businesses and residents for supporting early efforts to address homelessness, including local community outreach. About five years ago, the DLBA started funding the Downtown Neighborhood Impact initiative which provided an assistant city prosecutor dedicated to addressing misdemeanors in Downtown Long Beach.
The PAD program was expanded in April to include anyone facing a misdemeanor in Long Beach if there was evidence of a mental health or substance abuse condition. It was previously used for those already in custody or facing a minimum of one year in jail.
New Long Beach Homeless Court Project
In yet another new approach, the Long Beach City Council last month accepted a $254,000 grant to run a pilot Homeless Court Project. The pilot project is a partnership between the Long Beach Prosecutor’s Office, Long Beach Health Department, LA County Public Defender’s Office, and local social service organizations in Long Beach. Funding for Homeless Court was provided by LA County Supervisor Janice Hahn.
The effort is designed to remove legal barriers that make it harder for homeless individuals to find employment and housing and, like PAD, concurrently connect people to services.
The Homeless Court, expected to be publicly available in July, is different from traditional court settings. It will be located at the Multi-Service Center, a facility led by the Long Beach Health Department that houses 12 public and private partner organizations that help the homeless rebuild their lives.
The pilot hopefully makes court proceedings less intimidating and easier to access. The effort will help homeless individuals address outstanding criminal legal needs, including removing active warrants, clearing old convictions, or dismissing or reducing charges. Many of the homeless have a history of non-violent misdemeanor arrests and convictions.