gavel.jpgSan Francisco District Attorney George Gascon today announced the launch of neighborhood courts in the city’s Mission and Bayview Districts to handle certain low-level, nonviolent crimes.

Gascon said the courts will allow the district attorney’s office to focus on restorative, rather than punitive, solutions to the offenses and save the city money by shortening the length of time it takes to resolve the cases.

Under the program, an assistant district attorney is designated to a police station to pre-screen people who would be eligible for the program.

Crimes that would be considered by the courts include minor thefts, vandalism, disorderly conduct, drug possession, and drinking in public.

Offenders would have to not be on probation or have a case ongoing in court and would have to agree to take part in the program.

The cases would be heard by local residents trained to adjudicate the matters, and the punishments would be restorative in nature, such as volunteering at a nonprofit, cleaning up graffiti, or attending meetings with merchants who have been the victims of the crimes.

Gascon said the courts “empower neighborhoods … to be able to be part of the solution to the neighborhood’s problems.”

He said it is “an attempt to deal with a broken system” that often leads to repeat offenders who get “into a cycle where they continue to spiral downward.”

The neighborhood courts would also save money by wrapping up each case in a week or two, while these types of cases can last months in a criminal court.

Gascon said the average cost of holding the cases in the neighborhood courts is $300, compared to $1,500 in the criminal courts.

The program began being implemented two weeks ago in the Bayview and Mission, but Gascon said he hopes to expand it citywide eventually.

Dan McMenamin, Bay City News

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