Community-driven restorative justice, an alternative to criminal court.
Promoting innovative solutions to low level crime by resolving cases with the help of community volunteers. A division of the District Attorney
WHAT ARE NEIGHBORHOOD COURTS?
The Neighborhood Courts program is a community driven, pre-filing diversion program designed to divert low level misdemeanor offenses from entering the criminal justice system.
First time offenders are given an opportunity to take responsibility and repair the harm they caused through a community-based process using restorative justice principles instead of a courtroom.
Neighborhood Courts address criminal violations that impact the quality of life in the community and are an alternative to entering into criminal court.
The purpose of the program is to: reduce recidivism by understanding why offenders offend, address the harm the offense had on the victim (if applicable) and the community and, using restorative principles rather than punitive principles, effectively and efficiently restore the local community, victim and offender back into community.
HOW DO NEIGHBORHOOD COURTS WORK?
Eligible cases are diverted by the District Attorney’s Office into the Neighborhood Courts program. While participation is voluntary and confidential, participants must be willing to take responsibility for their actions that caused harm. Victims are invited to participate on a voluntary basis. A Panel of trained community volunteers meet with the participant and victim (if applicable) in a relaxed, confidential space, in what is called a conference. During the Conference, volunteer panelists and the participant discuss:
- Harms caused to victim (if applicable) and community
- Root of why the crime happened
- Panelist and participant work together to select directives that are specific, reasonable,attainable, and restorative to the participant, victim, and community.
- Once the participant successfully completes the directives, the case will be dismissed. The participant is given a second chance because the conviction will not be on their record. If needed, the participants may be referred to additional services offered in the community. If a case is not resolved in Neighborhood Courts, it will be re-routed back to the District Attorney’s Office.
Are you interested in becoming a volunteer panelist?
Join our volunteer team. Neighborhood Courts volunteers are essential to the success of the program. Volunteer panelists are community members that are trained in restorative justice, cultural competency, effective communication, facilitation, and problemsolving skills. The District Attorney’s Office strives to create a diverse group of volunteer panelists throughout the County of Santa Cruz who are from different diverse socioeconomic, cultural, gender, age, and professional backgrounds.
Requirements to become a volunteer panelist:
- Complete the application (see below)
- Pass a background check (Immigrant status will not be checked)
- Participate as an observer in two Neighborhood Court Conferences
- Participate as a panelist in Neighborhood Court conferences once every 2 months
- Participate in at least 4 of 8 additional trainings a year
- Two-year time commitment (1 year if student)
- Attend 12+ hours of Panelist Training (TBD)
- Attend monthly volunteer meeting (Currently held on the last Tuesday of the month from 6-7pm)
** Volunteer panelists monthly time commitment is between 2-3 hrs. a month**
"We all have made mistakes at one time or another in our lives. I too made a mistake, one that I thought would ruin my dreams of being a firefighter. I spent so much time worrying that I had potentially ruined future opportunities. The Neighborhood Courts program saved me and gave me a chance at redemption. Working with the panel allowed me to heal as well as participate in the choices moving forward that would allow me to help and heal those involved. Our mistakes will never define us as long as we learn from them. I want to thank Mrs. Elaine Johsnosn for all that she has done to help me and others like me in similar situations. Thank you!"
"I feel very fortunate to have been considered for such an outstanding program. As a first- time offender (a hit and run parked automobile incident), I was given the opportunity to explain my situation and take responsibility by apologizing to the person I offended. Rather than a court appearance, I appeared by Zoom in front of several qualified volunteers on a panel who were supportive and non-condemning. Confidentiality is an important part of the program, and at all times I felt respected. The panel helped me come to a decision on how to make amends to the victim (an apology letter). Once completed. I was assured by the District Attorney that the conviction would not be on record. Neighborhood Court is indeed a worthy program, and I am very thankful it was offered to me."
Thank you to our local Law Enforcement and Judicial Officers throughout Santa Cruz County. Conflict Resolution Center of Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz County Adult Probation, and other local Community Board Organizations.
For questions about Neighborhood Courts, please contact Elaine Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org