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October 2, 2011

"Can jail time slash crime by homeless?"

The title of this post is the headline of this new front-page piece in The Tennessean, which begins this way:

A controversial police program aimed at reducing crimes by homeless people has saved taxpayers money since it was launched this year, but it also has drawn pointed criticism that it violates due process rights and does little to curb quality-of-life offenses in the downtown area.

The program focuses on people like Richard Stewart, who last week completed a 20-day jail sentence.  Stewart’s crime?  He was found seeking shelter under the loading dock behind the downtown Sheraton during a thunderstorm, and arrested on charges of criminal trespassing and littering.

Stewart’s sentence was inflated because he has been labeled a chronic offender under the initiative created by Deputy Chief Damian Huggins, one of the police department’s rising stars.

During his time as the central precinct commander, Huggins noticed that a small group required a disproportionate amount of police resources.  Huggins said he researched the issue and discovered that 46 individuals, virtually all of them homeless like Stewart, were responsible for 3 percent of all arrests in Davidson County last year.  Huggins’ solution was to push for stricter jail sentences for those who were arrested 17 times or more in 2010.

A review of the new policy by The Tennessean found it has succeeded in reducing misdemeanor crimes but drawn the ire of defense attorneys and advocates who say the homeless are being targeted unfairly and sentenced too harshly for minor crimes.

October 2, 2011 at 01:26 PM | Permalink

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