AUSTIN (KXAN) – The Austin City Council approved on consent Thursday to expand the jurisdiction of the Downtown Austin Community Court so it can help low-level defendants access critical throughout the city.
The Downtown Austin Community Court opened its doors in 1999, becoming the first court of its kind in Texas. The mission of the court is to “administer justice equitably and compassionately and to utilize a client-centered and housing-focused intensive case management model to help individuals experiencing homelessness achieve long-term stability,” according to its website.
“We’ve really evolved our operations at the cour. Just like the community of Austin has changed over the last 25 years, we have become much more hands-on with individuals that are coming through the court, connecting them on-site to our integrated housing, case manager services, basic needs, and connection to other resources that exist in the community,” said Robert Kingham, Court Administrator for Downtown Austin Community Court.
The court processes defendants who commit ten common class-C misdemeanors: Public Intoxication, Disorderly Conduct, Possession of Drug Paraphernalia, Sit/Lie violations, Consuming Alcohol in a Public Place, Pedestrian in the Roadway, Human Waste, Littering, Simple Assault by Contact, Misdemeanor Theft C – Less than $100.
Instead of fining these or punishing these defendants, who are often homeless, with jail time, a Downtown Austin Community Court might necessitate the person access case management or substance abuse services, which would ultimately benefit the defendant and the public.
“We want to make sure that whenever individuals who are experiencing homelessness, who are experiencing their mental health crisis or having substance use issues that they are connected to these resources,” Kingham said.
Before the Thursday City Council Meeting, Downtown Austin Community Court only processed violations that took place downtown, West Campus and east Austin. The item approved on consent extends the court’s jurisdiction city-wide.
District 1 Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison said she was pleased the item was approved on consent Thursday.
“That’s one of those really important things to recognize that we as a body see that the entire city needs those crucial services that the DAAC provides,” she said. “It means that the expansion of service provision that more people get to have access to those case management services, those social services and navigation.”
“This is one more opportunity for us to show that as an Austin Community,” Harper-Madison continued, “we’re going to keep fighting every day to make certain that all Austinites get access to the services and the resources that they need.”