Crimewatch: Repeat Offenders Program - | KTBC Fox 7 | News, Weather, Sports

Crimewatch: Repeat Offenders Program


There is a new program to help repeat offenders get off the streets.

Many people who end up in Downtown Austin Community Court are not felons. Offenders include University of Texas students and tourists which match the court's jurisdiction of west campus and downtown. They're usually there for offenses ranging from public intoxication to aggressive panhandling.

Judge Michael Coffey said the group he sees the most is the same group who needs the most help.

"A large portion of the people that we see are homeless, living on the street, they're typically unable to pay fines," said Coffey.

Many of Austin’s Homeless say they break the law on purpose to get a meal and a temporary roof over their heads.

The court sees 40,000 cases a year, all class C misdemeanors.

Those who have at least 25 cases against them are called frequent offenders. Some have many more cases.

"A lot of these frequent offenders do have anywhere from 50 to 100 to 120 cases at any given time," said Court Administrator Peter Valdez.

Two years ago, there were 160 frequent offenders. As of mid August of this year, that number jumped to 280 frequent offenders. Many of them are homeless.

Experts said these chronic homeless are also the chronic users of public systems such as EMS, emergency rooms, and jails.

"Many of these crimes are crimes of homelessness so these crimes are a result of not having housing, not being stable, and therefore being repeat offenders of the system," said Executive Director of Caritas Beth Atherton.

Caritas, a no-profit organization was jus awarded at $400,000 federal grant that will provide 20 homes for the worst frequent offenders.

Caritas and Downtown Austin Community Court are partnering up for the new permanent supportive housing project. The project targets repeat offenders because this group’s criminal history prevents them from getting housing anywhere else.

"I believe if we funded more housing for this population, it would probably save the community a lot more money," said Valdez.

Once frequent offenders are in housing, they will get help for their mental illnesses. That's where the Downtown Austin Alliance comes in. The group is made up of 400 businesses that usually don't fund social projects. The board, however, believed in this one so much, it kicked in $100,000.

"Addressing the needs of folks that are problematic on the streets is really important to our mission to build value and vitality downtown," said Bill Bruce with Austin Downtown Alliance.

With an increasing homeless population, community partners are banding together. They hope to break the cycle of frequent offenders who go in and out of the system at a high cost to taxpayers.

The housing is expected to be ready this fall or early next year. Foundation communities will more than likely provide the housing, but it hasn't been determined where it will be yet.

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