Once maligned as just another flashy Gavin Newsom pet project, the Community Justice Center in the Tenderloin has survived a political maelstrom and won over some skeptics. On Thursday, it celebrated its two-year anniversary.
The community court on Polk Street in the Tenderloin works with law breakers in the neighborhood, and also the South of Market area, by connecting them with services instead of throwing them in jail.
The court had been caught up in a fiery political battle for years. In 2007, then-Mayor Newsom came up with the idea after seeing a similar court during a New York City visit. Progressives blasted the plan, questioning the effectiveness of the model and criticizing it for being a "poverty court."
But that was then. Now the court, which opened in March 2009, has supporters and the political fighting could be history.
"At first I was skeptical," said progressive Supervisor David Campos. "But based on what I have seen, I think it is working."
District Attorney George Gascón said the court model should be replicated "in other places."
When the court opened for session at 1:30 p.m. Thursday, more than 10 people had filled up the room. One by one, the judge called them up. Some were told to see a counselor to determine what services they need. Others were told they had done a good job by attending the therapy meetings they were supposed to. They were congratulated by the judge and those in attendance applauded.
The community court costs $1.7 million to run annually, and that’s paid for out of The City’s operating budget. Other costs associated with treatment services have relied on $3 million in federal grants.
Since opening, the court has handled more than 3,200 defendants. The center hears about 70 cases per day on average, half of which are felonies and nearly all of which are drug-related. Defendants are provided with a service plan that connects them to therapy groups, drug treatment programs and other services.
But the court continues to have critics. Supervisor John Avalos questioned if it’s being effective given the cost. And with 36 percent of clients being homeless, Avalos said, "It seems the court’s mission is to target people who are the poorest and the homeless."
But if Board of Supervisors President David Chiu has his way, the center will continue into the future. Chiu said he has and will continue to support the court.
"The CJC has shown some promising results, and we will continue to monitor the effectiveness of the program," Chiu said.