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San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon today touted the success of his neighborhood courts program, which has handled nearly 1,000 cases and saved the city thousands of dollars since starting last year. The neighborhood courts focus on restorative solutions to low-level, nonviolent crimes and save the city about $1,200 per case. The program has handled about 565 cases so far this year after resolving roughly 400 since its inception in May 2011. Gascon, discussing the program at a meeting with reportersthis morning, said it is “saving a tremendous amount of money and time and is reducing the likelihood of re-offending.” The neighborhood courts handle crimes such as vandalism, minor thefts or disorderly conduct. They are overseen by a team of five prosecutors and manned by a panel of three or four trained volunteers at each of nine locations around the city.
The cases are often resolved with agreements for the defendant to work with the business or person that was the victim of the crime, said Lisa Benau, one of the volunteer adjudicators. “We’re not just pushing someone back into the criminal justice system,” Benau said. She cited a case in which a man was out at bars along Polk Street celebrating being accepted into a business school, and ended up vandalizing multiple businesses along the corridor. Along with paying restitution for repairs to the businesses, the court had him write letters to each business and also spend 40 hours using his financial background to try to help improve the company, Benau said.
Gascon said these types of resolutions are superior to having a drawn-out criminal proceeding that will often require victims to take time out of their workday to come to court. “They’re being victimized again by having to come in to testify,” he said. Gascon said taking these low-level cases off of the workload of the other prosecutors also helps them concentrate on the more serious cases. He said his office also plans to expand the program to involve juveniles by spring of next year.
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