Restorative Justice • Community Empowerment • Neighborhood Improvement
In 2011, District Attorney Gascón reformed and expanded the City’s community courts to a new model: Neighborhood Courts. The District Attorney’s Office designed the new model to achieve four primary goals:
- Efficient case resolution. NCT participants can have their case heard within a couple of weeks and fully complete the process before they would have even appeared at their criminal court arraignment.
- Community-driven solutions. The community that is affected by the crime gets to direct the plan for repairing that harm.
- Reduced burden on criminal courts. NCT has the potential to significantly save both time and money for criminal courts and the agencies that work in them.
- Reduced recidivism. By keeping low-level offenders out of the traditional system – and keeping convictions off their record, NCT removes an obstacle to meaningful participation in the community. As individuals gain a true understanding of the impacts of their actions, they may be less likely to reoffend.
Now in its fourth year, Neighborhood Courts is an alternative to Criminal Court. Instead of charging cases for criminal prosecution, the District Attorney’s Office refers appropriate misdemeanor cases to Neighborhood Courts, and a panel of volunteer “adjudicators” hears the case. There are ten Neighborhood Courts across the city, with over 60 adjudicators serving on them and a waitlist of over 60 additional community members who wish to serve. Since its inception, Neighborhood Courts has handled approximately 2,000 cases. The program has been replicated in both Los Angeles and Yolo County, and jurisdictions across the country, near and far, continue to express interest and explore the possibility of replicating Neighborhood Courts in their jurisdictions. In 2015, Neighborhood Courts received an Innovations in Criminal Justice Award from the US Department of Justice/Bureau of Justice Assistance, Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, and Center for Court Innovation.
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. They are NOT defense attorneys, prosecutors, or judges. They include residents, merchants, students, parents and retired people. During Neighborhood Courts 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. Our 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.
All Neighborhood Court hearings are confidential – they are not a Criminal Court proceeding, and incidents that are successfully resolved through Neighborhood Court do not proceed in Criminal Court. They are also voluntary – individuals who are found eligible for Neighborhood Court may choose whether to participate or to have their case handled in Criminal Court.
Do you want to help? Become a volunteer court adjudicator!
This program works through volunteers committed to restorative justice and neighborhood safety. Residents, merchants, students, retired persons, parents – anyone can become an adjudicator! You can make a difference. If you are interested in volunteering for Neighborhood Courts, click on this application and submit it today. If you have questions, call Jackson Gee at (415) 575-6328 or email him at Jackson.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have you been cited for a misdemeanor or infraction and referred to neighborhood court?
If you have been cited for a misdemeanor and referred to Neighborhood Court, make sure you get scheduled for your hearing as soon as possible. Please call: (415) 517-4806 to be scheduled and for more information.