Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Community Justice Center Budget Killed

This little morsel of information is hidden somewhere in the middle of this Chron piece about the San Francisco budget crisis:

Arguing that they cannot start new programs when existing services are being cut, a majority of the board voted Tuesday to kill nearly $1 million in funding for a pet project of the mayor's, a Tenderloin community court that will prosecute crimes like aggressive panhandling and selling drugs.

The supervisors voted 6-4 against the Community Justice Center, with supervisors Bevan Dufty, Sean Elsbernd, Michela Alioto-Pier and Carmen Chu pushing to keep it. Outgoing Supervisor Gerardo Sandoval, who was elected to be a Superior Court judge, abstained. The mayor can veto the measure; it would take eight votes to override his veto.

This, coupled with the defeat of Prop L, may very well be the end of something that could be a very promising solution to a problem of large magnitude. Granted, there is not a lot of independent research examining recidivism rates in community justice programs (and more research should be generated, because programs like Red Hook in Brooklyn have been around for a while.) However, it does not seem as if the current court system has provided such as successful answer to the mix of homelessness, poverty and drugs in the Tenderloin. Much of the critique leveled at the court by the Coalition for Homelessness stems from misunderstandings about how it is supposed to operate (see for yourselves). And, as those who followed previous posts on this may recall, the sad thing is that this court - whether Mayor Newsom vetoes the decision to kill it or not - seems to have become no more than a pawn in the power struggle between Newsom and Supervisor Chris Daly. While this bickering is going on, we are stymied in a legal system that does not address problems in a holistic way.

If we don't try progressive solutions to our sentencing system, particularly in quality-of-life issues, we'll never know for sure whether they do, indeed, reduce recidivism. There is only one way to know, and that is to give this a try. And, much as it pains me to say this as a music and dance lover, this might be worth a bit more to the city as a whole than keeping the opera, symphony, and ballet budgets intact.


Jerry Jarvis said...

We want to send a message to the breakers of a fluidity running society that what we feel that they're trespasses effect us negatively, but try and be human about it. Cause we can't afford to hold you respondent about you negative effect on our peaceful nature, Dosen't mean we don't feel that negative pain, Other word's FUK U for taking us into you sickening pain of struggle.
WTF do we do?

Hadar Aviram said...

Well, as I understood the CJC idea, the purpose was not to coddle people or to leave crime unpunished. The idea was to couple the criminal process with a social service center that would allow taking care of the underlying problems.

The concept of "sending a message" to offenders loses much of its meaning when the offenders are homeless and addicted to drugs, in which case punishing them without paying attention to the underlying problems will not improve the community's quality of life, nor will it put an end to the type of crime that is generated by these problems.

Whether the CJC actually had a clear plan on how this was going to work is not as clear, just as it is not clear whether they will be able to open their doors in Feb as announced in their Town Hall meeting. But this was very much designed as part of the criminal justice system, albeit of a different flavor.

Anonymous said...

Isn't this just about a fundamental question - do we think our courts are doing as good a job as they can to link those cycling through again and again to services? How can anyone seriously argue that they are, and should keeping doing more of the same?

This project has become a political football, which sadly is obscuring this basic issue. Isn't it rare enough that our court system stands up and makes a case for change (even if it was prodded originally by a mayor?)

I think we should be encouraging the courts to do more of this, not slamming them just because of the origin of a concept.