Community court keeps low-level offenders out of jail

SAN DIEGO (KUSI) – There’s a program in San Diego that offers second chances to people who commit so-called “Quality of Life” crimes.

It’s been so successful in it’s first few months that the city attorney announced this week that there are big plans to expand it.

The people involved in the program have committed misdemeanor crimes like petty theft, open container or shoplifting.

Emilio Gomez, 21, made his mistake while working at a grocery store.

Gomez accidentally sold alcohol to a minor.

“I was busy and didn’t check the ID. That’s why I’m here,” he said.

Gomez and more than 300 other low level, non-violent offenders in San Diego County recently took the option to plead guilty and avoid going to jail by going into the new community court program.

Leonel Lopez of Escondido was drunk in public.

“I think the program is beneficial because it comes off your record. Especially for minor offenses, you don’t have to deal with later. No heavy fines or possible jail time,” Lopez said.

Get this: The program is not costing taxpayers any additional dollars.

It’s one court hearing, no trial, no jurors and no police officer witnesses.

Just $120 and 16 hours of community service paid by the offender to one of two non-profits, Alpha Project or Urban Corps.

They put them to work, helping the homeless and doing landscape work.

City Attorney and Former Judge Jan Goldsmith said he’s seen enough probation reports to know how bad guys start out.

“I want them to change the path they are on. I’m trying to protect future victims as the escalation could occur,” Smith said.

If offenders don’t comply, they sit in jail for 3 to 5 days.

So far, 2,800 community service hours have been performed, sweeping a number of offenses right of their records.

Will the program work? Only time will tell, but in the meantime, community court is growing strong roots.

“It was just a mistake I made. You learn from mistakes and you move on,” Lopez said.

As part of the program’s expansion, members of the community will be able to come up with projects that need to be done in their neighborhoods.

So if a quality of life crime is committed in El Cajon, folks who live there will be able to suggest ways the person who committed the crime can pay back their debts to society.

Categories: KUSI