'Neighborhood Courts' to Reduce Crowding, Cut Costs

San Francisco’s one-of-a-kind program puts nonviolent criminals to work for clean records.
by | May 2, 2011 AT 3:30 PM

In San Francisco, people accused of low-level, nonviolent crimes were sent to criminal court where it could take months to see a judge. Now, the accused will be given the option of going to "neighborhood court," where they could see their record cleared within two weeks of getting caught. This is the only program of its kind from coast to coast and it's supposed to lessen the load for courts while saving them money, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. For example, if someone is written up for graffiti, he or she can admit guilt and tell their story to a panel of people living in the community with the new artwork. The panel of volunteers would then give the violator a "restorative justice" assignment, such as cleaning up graffiti. After the walls have been cleared, so will the person's record of that particular offense. The entire process can take just two weeks, said a neighborhood prosecutor, and should cost $300 per crime—just a fifth of the price tag for putting someone through the criminal court system.