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Public Safety

San Diego Community Court Program To Expand Scope

San Diego City Attorney Jan Goldsmith arrives for a City Council meeting, Aug. 23, 2013.
Associated Press
San Diego City Attorney Jan Goldsmith arrives for a City Council meeting, Aug. 23, 2013.

Building on a highly successful first year, the San Diego Community Court program will expand its scope next year so that more low-level and first-time offenders can choose paths that lead them away from further criminal activity, the City Attorney's Office announced Thursday.

The expansion — partly funded by a $415,599 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice's Smart Prosecution Initiative — will provide services that help address Community Court participants' underlying needs, officials said.

In the pilot program's first year, more than 600 individuals avoided criminal records and paid their debt to society through community service.

Key program enhancements will include:

—Screening of program participants to assess individual needs (such as housing, education, job training, and treatment programs) that may put them at risk of committing additional crimes.

— A dedicated case manager to provide participants with personal counseling and direction in accessing to service providers and enrolling in treatment programs.

As these enhancements are put into effect, eligibility for Community Court programs can be broadened to include people who are arrested on misdemeanor drug charges and for illegal lodging, a charge brought against homeless individuals who sleep on the streets and refuse to accept placement in shelters.

"Early intervention is critical to helping young and first-time offenders get their lives back on track and not become career criminals," said City Attorney Jan Goldsmith. "The Smart Prosecution grant demonstrates that the approach we're taking in San Diego can be a model for other jurisdictions. Our Community Court partners are committed to expanding this program slowly and thoughtfully as it gives greater personal attention to the participants most at risk of committing future offenses."

Partners in the program voted unanimously last month to continue the program. Program partners include the San Diego Sheriff's Department, the Office of the Public Defender, the San Diego Association of Governments, the American Civil Liberties Union, and two San Diego service providers, Alpha Project and the Urban Corps of San Diego County.

Program participants are required to complete 16 hours of service, doing things like planting trees, recycling waste products, painting out graffiti, clearing neighborhoods of illegally dumped trash, and helping provide services for the homeless.