New courts aim to curb repeat criminal offenders

Convicted criminals are about to get more second chances.

San Francisco is about to launch two new courtroom initiatives that help people on parole and probation  get reacquainted with life on the outside. The programs are funded through federal stimulus grants totaling almost $2 million.

The biggest chunk will go toward a Superior Court Parole Reentry Court, which will offer services to inmates leaving state prison. Those “wraparound services” include employment help, education, mental health counseling and housing services, said San Francisco Superior Court spokeswoman Ann Donlan.

It’s all part of growing emphasis on “problem-solving courts,” which include a courtroom that concentrates on drug offenders and the Community Justice Center that handles “quality-of-life” crimes, such as homeless problems, public urination, aggressive panhandling or being drunk in public.

“We’re looking forward to using our expertise for servicing this population,” Donlan said. “We think we have a great track record, and clearly there is a need for this kind of service.”

About $500,000 of the grant will go toward San Francisco’s probationers. Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi introduced the grant this week for full board approval.

The Probation Accountability Court will concentrate on people who break their probation. Instead of going back to jail, the offender will have another chance to enter services, according to Chief Probation Officer Wendy Still.

Efforts to reduce the number of probationers who reoffend could end up paying off by the end of 2010.

Legislation co-written by state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, provides for tracking. If a department can lower its recidivism level, the savings realized by sending fewer inmates to prison goes back to the local agency. The first report is expected in December.

The parolee program should be running out of the McAllister Courthouse by month’s end. The probation program requires supervisors’ approval. Law enforcement officials met Thursday to discuss rolling out the plan.

bbegin@sfexaminer.com

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