From: Western Regional Advocacy Project, Street Roots, Sisters Of The Road, Los Angeles Community Action Network, San Francisco Coalition On Homelessness, Real Change
SUBJECT: HOMELESS People who witness crimes are being thrown into jail because prosecutors want easy access to them
On June 3rd, three homeless people who witnessed a disturbance in Medford, OR that led to a death and an arrest on manslaughter charges were themselves jailed - because a prosecutor argued, and a judge agreed, that as homeless people, the witnesses might prove too difficult to locate at the time of the trial. That trial is scheduled to start Sept. 25. No charges have been brought against the witnesses.
On Friday, Aug. 24th, the three individuals will be going before a judge to fight for their freedom from incarceration. But they are not the first homeless people to be jailed for the crime of stepping forward to tell police what they witnessed.
"It should alarm everyone in this country, regardless of how you see the issue of homelessness, that our courts are locking people up simply based on the fact that they witnessed (not committed) a crime. Guantanamo Bay comes to Medford Oregon," says Paul Boden, Executive Director of Western Regional Advocacy Project based in San Francisco.
“An alarming trend has emerged in this country, one that criminalizes those that merely witness a crime; a trend that has led to the jailing of witnesses for indefinite periods of time. This trend has the chilling effect of silencing those who would otherwise be used as tools in the pursuit of justice,” says Pete White, founder and Co-Director of the Los Angeles Community Action Network.
This incident comes on the heels of another case, in Scranton, PA. On July 6th Randy Barr, a 41-year-old homeless man, saw a man slashed to death during an argument, called police and waited for them to arrive at the scene in order to make a statement. He was jailed for four weeks before being put on a house arrest program earlier this month, fitted with a monitoring device and required to check in with house arrest officials once a week. He is banned from using alcohol or drugs and must also submit to random drug tests and pay $10 a day for the program.
Initially, Barr was thrown in Lackawanna County Prison where, he said, no one told him about anything that was happening with the case.
As advocates for homeless people, we are outraged at this egregious violation of their civil rights. Instead of giving the individuals in these cases a hotel room or other place to stay, they have been thrown into jail and treated as any other inmate for the crime of coming forward as good citizens, while not having a roof over their head. “Just because an individual is without a home, shouldn’t mean you are stripped of your rights as a citizen of the United States,” says Israel Bayer, Director of Street Roots newspaper in Portland, Ore.
It has often been said that the most precious thing we have in America is our freedom and that government must be able to show good cause before our freedom can be infringed upon. Protections were created that government must be able to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that we have committed a crime before it can lock us up in jail in an effort to preserve our individual freedom. Apparently, those days are over.
“If you've got money, you've got rights. Since when do you have to buy due process and human rights in this country?” says Rachael Myers, Advocacy Director with Real Change newspaper in Seattle, Wash.
Paul Boden, Western Regional Advocacy Project, 415-621-2533
Genny Nelson, Sisters Of The Road, 503-284-6629
Israel Bayer, Street Roots, 503-228-5657
Christine Herbert, Christine@christineherbert.com, 541-779-2006
Homeless Advocate Organizations:
Western Regional Advocacy Project is a coalition of west coast social justice-based
Street Roots is a bimonthly street newspaper in Portland, Ore.
Sisters Of The Road is a customer-driven model focusing on solutions to the calamities of homelessness and poverty. Running a cafe that accepts food stamps or bartering, as well as family advocacy.
Real Change is a weekly street newspaper in Seattle, Wash.
San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness initiates program and policy change that results in the creation of exits from poverty.
Los Angeles Community Action Network works to help people dealing with poverty create & discover opportunities, while serving as a vehicle to ensure they have voice, power & opinion in the decisions that are directly affecting them.