District Attorney George Gascón Expands Neighborhood Prosecution and Neighborhood Courts Program
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 11, 2011
CONTACT: Stephanie Ong Stillman, DA Gascón’s Office, (415) 553-1167
Omid Talai, DA Gascón’s Office, (415) 553-9272
Bayview and Mission Pilot Programs Showing Promising Results
SAN FRANCISCO – District Attorney George Gascón announced today the launch of the Neighborhood Prosecution and Neighborhood Courts Program at Northern and Park Police Stations, expanding into the Western Addition, Haight, Civic Center, Hayes Valley, Pacific Heights, Marina and Inner Sunset areas. The program includes placing a prosecutor at the police district stations and diverting low-level citations to neighborhood courts where trained residents decide the cases.
Since its launch in May 2011 in the Bayview and Mission Police Stations, the program has been well received by community members and is already seeing promising results. Cases being heard in neighborhood courts take an average of twelve days from the day of the incident to program completion, comparatively the traditional court process often takes anywhere from one to nine months to complete. The program is also reducing costs. The average cost of hearing one misdemeanor in traditional court is $1500, compared to $300 in neighborhood courts.
The District Attorney plans to expand the program citywide over the course of the next year. “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 residents,” said District Attorney George Gascón.
The Neighborhood Prosecution program works by bringing the District Attorney’s Office into the community to facilitate the resolution of crimes that diminish the quality of life for local residents. Individuals cited for nonviolent offenses by police such as drinking in public, vandalism and petty theft are immediately pre-screened by an Assistant District Attorney assigned to the local police station to determine whether the case is suitable to be heard in neighborhood courts.
Individuals who volunteer to have their matters heard in neighborhood courts agree to abide by the prescribed outcomes that focus on restoring both the community and the offender. Individuals who are successful in meeting the terms avoid having a conviction on their criminal record. Thus far, 75% of the offenders who have agreed to participate in the program have completed it.
Community members from the neighborhood are trained in restorative justice to adjudicate matters. The Volunteer Adjudicators are a diverse group of community members including merchants, homeowners, retirees and students.
“I became a Volunteer Adjudicator because I was troubled by the graffiti, loitering, chronic drunks and drug dealing in my neighborhood. I envisioned the Neighborhood Courts as an expedient, innovative route to discourage criminal activity and yet create a sense of responsibility and community,” said Lisa Benau, a Western Addition resident and Volunteer Adjudicator.
The Neighborhood Prosecution Program operates under the direction of the Alternative Programs Division of the District Attorney’s Office. “We are seeing the principles of restorative justice at work right here in our neighborhoods,” said Lenore Anderson, Chief of the Alternative Programs Division.
Anderson cited recent examples such as a person who was cited for petty theft who paid back the shop, apologized, and paid into a community restitution fund. In another, a person who vandalized a storefront paid for the clean up and agreed to community service. In others, cited persons have written letters of apology, agreed to extended mediation, gone to treatment, and volunteered for community clean up.
The Neighborhood Prosecution Program is part of District Attorney Gascón’s initiative to increase accountability and integration of the former Community Court programs. Neighborhood Courts is a partnership between the District Attorney’s Office, California Community Dispute Services, and Pre-trial Diversion.