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Mesa Community Court Works To Break Homeless Residents Out Of Criminal Justice Cycle

Low-level crimes can be more than an inconvenience for both the system and the person in trouble. If that person, an offender in the eyes of the law, is living on the streets or experiencing extreme poverty, a minor infraction can mean a quick descent into the criminal justice system that is hard to recover from.

Alesha Durfee, a professor in ASU’s School of Social Transformation, delved into the why behind that problem. From those kinds of arrests, to court fines they can’t pay, to more arrests, substance abuse and beyond — the cycle of the criminal justice system for many people can become impossible to escape.

At one court in Mesa, Durfee found that the rate at which those people had been victims themselves was much higher than national rates.

Just 41% of defendants had stable housing, 38% had slept outside the night before they were surveyed, 81% of women and 52% of men had been physically assaulted and 92% had belongings stolen from them in the past.

In short, Durfee found both men and women in the system who had a lot working against them.

But why were so many victims still caught up on the wrong end of the system? For many of these people, especially the women, Durfee said the roots of so many of the problems they experienced go much deeper.

But, there’s some light at the end of the tunnel.

Durfee met these people she researched as they worked through a court that aims to help them out of that cycle. Breaking that cycle is exactly what Mesa police Detective Aaron Raine set out to do when he helped start the Mesa Community Court.

He joined The Show to explain how, when he was a child, he saw just how hard it can be for a family that is effectively homeless, even if the world around them doesn’t know it.

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Katie Campbell is a senior producer for The Show.She is a native Floridian and graduated from the University of Florida’s College of Journalism before trading the humidity for a dry heat.Katie worked for WUFT News, the NPR and PBS affiliate housed at the college, where she reported on breaking news and elections. That experience led her to Arizona in 2015 to report for the News21 investigation “America’s Weed Rush.” She traveled from the New England region to Hawaii to reveal what worked — and what didn’t — in states’ medical marijuana programs, and hosted News21’s first podcast, “Cultivating Conversation.”She later covered courts and politics in Pinal County, exposing the misuse of asset forfeiture funds by elected officials, then kept watch over the state House of Representatives for the Arizona Capitol Times, covering everything from a statewide teacher walkout to the departure of two state representatives amid scandal.