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Boston opens special court for arrests at homeless camp

November 2, 2021 GMT

BOSTON, Mass. (AP) — A special court for people arrested near a homeless encampment in Boston began hearing cases on Monday, while local criminal justice advocates said exaggerated concerns about public health were being used to arrest and detain people.

The city says it needs to hold court in a jail facility because people living in the homeless camp are medically compromised and it’s quicker to have court proceedings just steps away at the South Bay House of Correction, The Boston Globe reported.

But Anthony Benedetti, the chief counsel for the state public defender’s office, said that based on Monday’s proceedings, the court wasn’t meeting its goal of getting those arrested into treatment faster than if they’d been tried at a regular courthouse.

City officials have said those dependent on opioids will be connected with substance abuse treatment options. But the three men tried by the court Monday spent five to six hours being booked and processed. One was sent to a treatment center, the other two would spend the night detoxing in jail, the Globe reported.

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Ashley Tarbet De Stefano, a representative of the Boston Immigration Justice Accompaniment Network, said the city should focus on proving health care, housing and mental health services, rather than arrests.

The makeshift court is part of Mayor Kim Janey’s executive order to remove tents from city streets, after she declared addiction and homelessness a public health emergency last month.