End up in front of a judge and the stakes are high: Not only the prospect of doing jail time or paying a fine, but also the burden of having a criminal record. It’s an outcome that, for homeless people in particular, can perpetuate a downward spiral. But one court in Boston offers a second chance. Once a month, a room inside the Pine Street Inn, the largest homeless services provider in New England, is transformed into a courtroom for homeless defendants.

The program, which started in 2010, has served more than 700 people who are either homeless or at risk of being homeless. The idea behind the court is to dismiss low-level felonies and misdemeanors that stand in the way of people getting a job and a place to live.

WGBH News' Tina Martin reported earlier this week on 57-year-old Barbara Parham of Dorchester, who after being homeless for a decade, landed at the Pine Street Inn Women's Program. Last year, Parham's felony charge for carrying drugs without a prescription was dismissed through the Homeless Court program. Watch the full story here.

Judge Kathleen Coffey, who presides over the Pine Street Inn’s Homeless Court, spoke with WGBH All Things Considered anchor Barbara Howard about the court she oversees and what it means for the community. This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Barbara Howard: I must ask you, Judge: When a listener hears the words "felony conviction," they understandably are concerned that a felon’s record just gets washed away. What do you say to that?

Kathleen Coffey: Well, not all offenses are eligible. So clearly someone who has a firearm conviction, or a conviction for rape or mayhem, we're not going to see them in Homeless Court.

Howard: What kinds of cases are you talking about taking on in Homeless Court?

Coffey: Low-level felonies. So there's whole gradations of felonies. For example, an assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon. If someone kicks another individual and they have a shoe on, that shoe can be classified as a dangerous weapon.

Howard: So what you're saying is, if somebody in anger kicks somebody with a shoe on, it goes on the record as a dangerous weapon and prevents them from getting housing or jobs. And they have to disclose that?

Coffey: This is why we look at each of these cases very carefully. We go beyond the charge and look at the surrounding facts and circumstances that led to the charge, and most importantly we look at the efforts that the homeless individual has taken to address the reasons that caused them to become homeless, and the reasons why they ended up in the justice system to begin with.

Howard: My understanding from Tina's piece is that you do talk directly with these people who have had these felony convictions, and not necessarily through their attorney. You go one-on-one with them. Is that right?

Coffey: Right, but their attorney is always present.

Howard: What kinds of conversations do you have?

Coffey: Typically, I will ask a very simple question. Tell me about your life. How did you end up homeless? Where are you from? Tell me something good that's happened in your life. Tell me some of your challenges. It’s an invitation for them to have their efforts and their lives validated.

Howard: Are there any cases that stick in your mind?

Coffey: There is one in particular that involved a young woman who was pregnant. She had had a very difficult life, was addicted to drugs, but she was in a treatment program through Pine Street. She had been doing very well. She was also on probation out of Lynn District Court. And sadly, she had not fulfilled her obligations while on probation. Her relationship with her probation officer was very frayed. So the probation officer did not want her to participate in the Homeless Court. She had been on default numerous times, and he didn't believe that this time it was going to be different, that she was going to complete the treatment program and that she was going to give birth.

I'm happy to say that after consultation with that probation officer and with the judge in that court, they had a change of heart when they saw her efforts and her participation in the treatment program. And we were able to have the probation warrant removed and the case terminated, and she's doing beautifully, from what I understand. She gave birth to a healthy child, continues in treatment, and has custody of her child, so that was significant.

Howard: Sounds like you find it gratifying to work in the Homeless Court.

Coffey: Very.

Howard: That was Judge Kathleen Coffey. She oversees the Homeless Court program at the Pine Street Inn once a month. This is WGBH’s All Things Considered.