District Attorney George Gascón Honors Volunteer Adjudicators on 2 Year Anniversary of Neighborhood Court

April 16, 2013

CONTACT: Stephanie Ong Stillman, DA Gascón’s Office, (415) 553-1167 of (415) 740-5134
ADA Alex Bastian, DA Gascón’s Office, (415) 553-1931

SAN FRANCISCO – District Attorney George Gascón held a ceremony today to mark the two year anniversary of Neighborhood Court, an initiative he launched as an alternative to the traditional criminal justice process. Volunteer Adjudicators were honored at the event for their commitment to public safety and their role in making Neighborhood Courts a success. There are ten Neighborhood Courts across the city with over 100 adjudicators. In 2012 the District Attorney’s Office sent almost 700 cases to Neighborhood Court.

“Over the last two years, Neighborhood Court grew from a local initiative to a state model that is grounded in restorative justice, gives community members a principal role in the safety and vitality of their neighborhoods, and preserves criminal justice system resources for serious and violent crimes,” said District Attorney George Gascón. “Neighborhood Court could not be a success without the dedication, thoughtfulness and leadership of our volunteer adjudicators.”

District Attorney Gascón designed Neighborhood Courts to achieve four primary goals: efficient case resolution, community-driven solutions, reduced burden on criminal courts, and reduced recidivism. Instead of charging cases for criminal prosecution, the District Attorney’s Office through its Neighborhood Prosecutors refers certain misdemeanor and infraction cases to Neighborhood Court, and a panel of volunteer “adjudicators” hears the case. Neighborhood Court participants can have their case heard within a couple of weeks compared to the traditional court process that can take anywhere from one to nine months to complete, saving both time and money. Neighborhood Court cases cost approximately $850 per case to resolve, compared to over $1,500 if sent to the criminal justice system. Last year, $330,000 was saved by sending misdemeanor cases to Neighborhood Court.

“We are given the opportunity to apply restorative justice principles rather than punish people. As a result, we represent the face of our neighborhoods and take ownership for helping to improve the quality of life in our communities. I strongly urge all San Francisco residents to become a part of this wonderful program,” said Catherine Isaacs, a volunteer adjudicator with the South of Market Neighborhood Court.

Adjudicators are members of San Francisco’s diverse neighborhoods who volunteer to hear the cases. They have been trained in restorative justice and problem solving. During Neighborhood Court sessions, adjudicators hear from the offender and the victim (in cases where there is a victim), and discuss the impact of the crime on the community. To resolve the case, adjudicators issue “directives,” like community service or restitution, to repair the harm caused by the incident. Community-based partners, San Francisco Pretrial Diversion and Community Boards, provide ongoing training and support to our adjudicators, helping them to infuse restorative principles into the sessions and to craft individualized directives in each case.

Offenders often complete their directives with a sense of responsibility and commitment to turning their lives around. In the case of Tiffany, a department store employee who was caught stealing from her work, she admits she wasn’t thinking of the consequences of her actions. When Tiffany was caught stealing, she lost her job and faced serious embezzlement charges. The Neighborhood Prosecutor reviewed her case and because she didn’t have a prior record, offered Neighborhood Court as an alternative. Volunteer Adjudicators issued a directive of 36 community hours and a written letter to her mother explaining her actions. In that letter she thanked the Neighborhood Prosecutor for and said, “I actually feel good doing community service hours because I deserve that and more. I know how lucky I got. But I promise that I will never in my life do that again... I learned from my mistake.” Since Tiffany completed her directives, she has helped Pre Trial Diversion in other activities and even designed a t-shirt for a community event.

Neighborhood Courts is a partnership between the District Attorney’s Office, Community Boards, and Pre-trial Diversion. The program is currently being replicated by Yolo County and studied for replication by Santa Barbara County.