Back almost a decade when I used to work for legal aid, one of the problems we often faced was getting bail for homeless people. You can’t be bailed without an address where the police can come and find you – and if you’re homeless, obviously that’s by definition something you don’t have. People can find themselves in prison – the ultimate punishment available in our justice system – simply because they don’t have anywhere to go.
I don’t think any of my clients ever ended up getting stuck there for that reason – we fought hard until we found them appropriate accommodation, next to impossible though that often seemed to be – but certainly many had been imprisoned in the cells for a few days or longer before I saw them. (Particularly if the police decided to go executing warrants on a Friday afternoon, after the courts had finished for the week.) There are few facilities available for the homeless, they fill their places quickly – and obviously the homeless person can’t go and do any legwork because, of course, they’re in custody.
Anyway, so I thought it was interesting to see an extremely rich man – Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the (now former) IMF head accused of rape in New York – finding himself with the same problem:
Set to be released on Friday New York City requires that home detainees have an actual home to go back to or at least suitable lodgings. With New York City hotels turning him away after his alleged assault on a maid and his rental property lease falling through at the last minute he literally has no where to go.
I don’t know what the situation is in France, but let’s hope that if Mr Strauss-Kahn turns out not to be guilty of the charges and ends up back in some position of authority in Paris, he remembers the plight he faced – and does what he can to make sure homeless people in his home country aren’t also stuck in jail because they don’t have anywhere else to go.
It’s a pity more people making the decisions about prisons and homelessness don’t have some actual personal experience of it.