gavel.jpgSan Francisco District Attorney George Gascon said Thursday that he plans to expand his neighborhood courts program to all districts of the city by the end of this fiscal year.

The program, a cost-saving measure designed to divert certain low-level, nonviolent crimes away from criminal courts, started last May and is currently running at four police stations in the city, Gascon told reporters this morning.

But by the end of September, Gascon said he hopes to have the program up and running in all 10 police stations around the city.

The neighborhood courts, which seek restorative rather than punitive solutions to crimes such as vandalism, minor thefts or disorderly conduct, have handled about 900 cases since starting nine months ago, he said.

The program, currently in the Mission, Bayview, Park and Northern police stations, involves a prosecutor placed at a station who pre-screens people who would be eligible for the program. Offenders have to not be already on probation or have another ongoing case in court.

The cases are then heard by local residents trained to adjudicate the matters, with punishments handed out such as volunteering at a nonprofit or cleaning up graffiti, according to the district attorney’s office.

Prosecutors estimate that the cost of hearing one of these cases in the neighborhood courts is about $300, compared to about $1,500 in a traditional court. About 75 percent of the offenders who agree to participate have completed the program, according to the district attorney’s office.

There has “certainly been a noticeable effect” from the program, Gascon said today.
In expanding it to all 10 stations, “the goal is to continue to move low-level cases where we can away from the courts,” he said.

Dan McMenamin, Bay City News

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