San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon announced Tuesday the expansion of his neighborhood courts program, a cost-saving measure that diverts certain low-level, nonviolent crimes away from criminal courts.
The program, which started in the city’s Mission and Bayview police stations in May but is now being expanded to two stations in the northern part of the city, is an attempt by the district attorney’s office to provide restorative rather than punitive solutions and save the city money in the process.
A prosecutor is placed in a police station and pre-screens people who would be eligible for the program, and cases are heard by local residents trained to adjudicate the matters.
Crimes that would be considered by the courts include minor thefts, vandalism, disorderly conduct, drug possession and drinking in public, and offenders have to not be already on probation or have another ongoing case in court.
Punishments include community service like volunteering at a nonprofit, cleaning up graffiti or attending meetings with merchants who have been the victims of similar crimes, according to the district attorney’s office.
The program has been well received in the Bayview and Mission neighborhoods, according to Gascon, who decided to expand it to the Northern and Park police stations, which oversee parts of the northern end of the city including the Haight-Ashbury, Western Addition, Civic Center and Marina neighborhoods.
Prosecutors estimate that the cost of hearing one of these cases in the neighborhood courts is $300, compared to about $1,500 in the traditional court, and said 75 percent of the offenders who agreed to participate in the program have completed it.
“By empowering the community through neighborhood courts, we are bringing justice to the neighborhoods and breaking the cycles of crime that affect the quality of life for our city’s resident,” Gascon said in a statement.
Dan McMenamin, Bay City News