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May 13, 2011

San Francisco Law and Order: YOU edition

Have you ever wanted to take part in the San Francisco justice system? If you’re interested in helping to create a more rehabilitative legal system, you might want to volunteer for the new Neighborhood Courts system. The SF District Attorney’s office has just launched a new initiative to expand the system throughout the city and is looking for volunteers. Volunteers get trained in arbitration, the principles of restorative justice, mediation skills, and neighborhood problem solving. The innovative program would speed up the justice system by quickly referring nonviolent criminal cases to these courts allowing community members to decide how to address the problems. Sentences include restorative activities such as community service, restitution, conflict mediation and treatment of mental illness and drug/alcohol abuse. Through the system, the DA’s office hopes to empower residents to hold offenders accountable for actions that affect the community.

The Community Courts system has existed for the past 10 years, but this new program will seek to place a city prosecutor at each of the 10 district police stations in San Francisco. Petty theft, graffiti, vandalism, disorderly conduct and fighting are some examples of the types of crimes that will be referred to the system. These crimes directly affect residents, but currently take a long time to resolve and cost the city on average $1,500 to prosecute. In the new system, these cases will be immediately referred to the neighborhood courts made up of residents, merchants, students, parents and other community members who can then sentence offenders to restore the impacted neighborhood. This system only costs the city $300 on average per case. The system is a partnership between City departments, neighborhood residents and merchant associations. It is currently in a pilot program focused on the Mission and BayView districts with plans for expansion throughout the City this summer. For more information or to volunteer contact Jackson Gee at jackson.gee@sfgov.org.