Court has financial, structural hurdles

A new Tenderloin-based court proposed by the mayor to handle drug users and those with behavioral health needs could cost up to $2.8 million annually and face challenges of duplicating already existing programs, according to a Controller’s Office report released Thursday.

Called the Community Justice Center, the court, however, would handle a population not benefiting from the existing court structure and which could not expand to meet the goals of the center, the report added.

The center, which is in a testing phase and being run out of the Hall of Justice on Bryant Street, directs offenders of such crimes as nonviolent drug use, theft, prostitution and aggressive panhandling to social services rather than jail or fines, according to the Mayor’s Office.

Proportionately, more arrests occur within the region the center is expected to service, which is loosely bordered by Bush, Gough, Harrison, and Third streets, according to the report. The region covers less than 10 percent of The City’s population, but accounts for 28 percent of all violation cases charged in The City.

The City is preparing to move the center into a permanent home at 555 Polk St. One-time startup funding in the amount of $500,000 was put in reserves during the current fiscal year, to outfit the Polk Street space with two holding cells.

Supervisor Bevan Dufty, however, asked that the money not be released until the Controller’s Office reviewed the Community Justice Center proposal.

If the reserve funding is released, a $1 million federal grant would also become available to help fund the center, according to the report.

The report noted that the center is distinct from existing courts, but also faces challenges, including ensuring “procedural safeguards necessary in the justice system,” the “risk that the CJC will duplicate services already provided,” and the need for outside funding sources for the annual operating costs of between $1.7 [million] and $2.8 million annually.”

Dufty said he was pleased with the report’s results and said the center would reach “people who are just consistently not succeeding.”

Supervisor Chris Daly, whose district includes much of the center’s target area and who sits on the Board of Supervisors budget committee, said he would not back the proposal because of The City’s $338 million projected budget deficit which has already resulted in service cuts.

A system of “restorative justice,” when an offender goes to a program rather than jail, should be built within the current court system, he said.

The money should be pulled off reserve for the center, Mayor Gavin Newsom said, adding, “I haven’t seen any new legislation with better ideas.”

dsmith@examiner.com

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