Special court that gives homeless a second chance plans to expand islandwide

Special court that gives homeless a second chance plans to expand islandwide
Updated: Nov. 16, 2017 at 5:06 PM HST
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(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Before Community Outreach Court officially got underway Thursday morning, Judge Clarence Pacarro made every effort to put the defendants at ease.

"I just wanted to meet everyone before we started on the record," he said. "Please take advantage of this. People are here to help. Give them a chance, and take it upon yourself to help yourselves."

The state Judiciary started the program in January.

Right now, Community Outreach Court is held twice a month at Hawaii's First Circuit Court. It's designed to help homeless people charged with non-violent, non-felony offenses clean up their records so they can get back on track.

Social workers identify those who would be good candidates, and much of the work is done before they even step into the courtroom.

"The public defender will review all of their cases and approach the prosecuting attorney, and then they'll decide whether they can come to a plea agreement and bring it before the court," Deputy Chief Court Administrator Calvin Ching said.

As of August, 347 cases had been cleared. So far, about half of the participants have completed their sentences by performing community service.

Tina Matthews was at court because of multiple citations for camping in a park.

"Ms. Matthews has done her community service successfully. Based on that performance, the state would ask to dismiss case number eight, " said the public defender.

The judge dismissed that charge, along with several others.

On top of cleaning up her record, the program is giving her a chance at housing – and helping her kick her addiction to meth.

Matthews says she's thankful for a second chance.

"I haven't had any help at all. I know why. I don't blame anyone but myself," she said. "I'm just glad there is somebody there now giving us the opportunity to start over."

Next year, the program will expand islandwide and hearings will no longer be held inside courtrooms.

Instead, judges will be going into the community to do the same work.

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