SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) – A cost-saving program to divert low-level crimes away from criminal courts to community courts in San Francisco neighborhoods has been so successful it’s being expanded to seven other neighborhoods.

The Neighborhood Courts program, which was started in May of this year in the Bayview and the Mission, relies on volunteer adjudicators in a neighborhood setting to try people accused of crimes such as minor theft, vandalism, drug possession and public drunkenness.

KCBS’ Holly Quan Reports:

Punishments usually mean community service, volunteering or cleaning up graffiti in the neighborhood. Participants may also be expected to pay restitution and get treatment for issues such as substance abuse or anger management, according to the District Attorney’s office.

The cost of trying a case in regular court can add up to around $1,500, but in neighborhood court only amounts to $300.

“There’s an opportunity for discussion, and it’s not adversarial at all,” said Lisa Benau, a volunteer court adjudicator. “Somebody comes in and there are three panelists and then there might be witnesses or a victim, but when the participant comes in, they want to do right.”

The district attorney is expanding the program to the Western Addition, Haight, Civic Center, Hayes Valley, Pacific Heights, Marina and Inner Sunset.

“I think we want to have a system that works, where they feel like the community is involved and they’re not just being thrown out to see what happens,” said Benau.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)


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