Analysis: Is the Neighborhood Court Program Really That Innovative?

During the district attorney’s campaign, the Yolo County Neighborhood Court Program was held up as being a progressive innovation of incumbent Jeff Reisig.  For Mr. Reisig, the neighborhood court was a way to lower incarceration and emphasize treatment and restorative justice principles.

In his campaign, Mr. Reisig claimed his office “was the second in California to establish a neighborhood court program that has diverted 1,400 cases from the court system and will soon expand to include certain felony crimes.”

Meanwhile, his opponent, Dean Johansson, questioned whether these cases should have been criminalized in the first place.  He and others noted that most of the cases handled under Neighborhood Court would not have been prosecuted in most counties.

In the heat of the campaign, the DA’s office released a report on Neighborhood Court, looking at 640 program participants with misdemeanor level offenses.  They claim only 4.8 percent were rearrested within the first year after completing the program.

The report does note that the program has shifted to misdemeanor charges such as battery, public intoxication, petty theft, vandalism, trespassing, minor in possession, resisting arrest, and other various offenses.  And that 80 percent of the cases diverted were misdemeanors.

In a recent op-ed, Mr. Reisig writes: “Recently, there has been some misinformation that Neighborhood Court only handles noise complaints and other minor infractions. Since we started, Neighborhood Court has expanded from a first-time offender program that mostly dealt with low-level offenses, to include a much broader range of participants and crime types. As our experience and success have grown, we have started handling many different types of misdemeanors and even some felony level property offenses.”

He argued, “In 2017, 90 percent of Neighborhood Court’s cases were misdemeanor level charges.”

The DA also noted that, starting in 2015, they received federal funding to expand staffing for the Neighborhood Court program.

Mr. Reisig writes: “What began as a pilot project in Davis expanded into a countywide program thanks to this financial support. However, that federal funding is no longer available.

“Going forward, we are committed to collaborating with the Yolo County Board of Supervisors and the cities to keep Neighborhood Court going and growing. The positive results and possibilities for our communities are too great to do anything less.”

To test this, the Vanguard requested from the county the charging information on the Neighborhood Court program.  In a letter from Deputy County Counsel Eric May, “NHC is a pre-charging restorative justice diversion program. Since the goal of the program is to resolve cases before charges are brought, only a small fraction (approximately 25%) of the cases in the program are ever charged based on law enforcement agency requests.”

They did provide a summary of the types of crimes, but we have no way with the current information to evaluate the actual crimes.

What we see is, while the DA is correct that many of these “crimes” are in fact “misdemeanors,” we are still largely talking the same category of crimes that we always have – public intoxication, minor in possession, vehicle, noise complaint, sale of tobacco under 21, trespass, open container (both misdemeanor and infraction), false ID and public urination.  Those “crimes” still comprise 84 percent of the Neighborhood Court Cases, and most of those would not be charged in other jurisdictions.

There is evidence, however, that the program is expanding with 28 (8.4 percent of cases) being petty theft, 8 cases of embezzlement, 7 cases of battery or fighting (which could include felonies), and 7 for resisting arrest.  In 2017, those cases represented 50 of 306 cases.

But for Neighborhood Court to be the broadly innovative program that reduces not only recidivism but also incarceration, it has to take on crimes that other jurisdictions would have to prosecute, and divert people out of the criminal justice system.

Back in 2013, Judge David Gottlieb came to speak at a Vanguard event on Restorative Justice.  It was an illustration of just how much further other locales are from Davis.

Since 1982, Fresno County has had something called a VORP – Victim Offender Reconciliation Program – which has the ability to bring “victims and offenders together in safe mediation or family group conference settings to permit the offender to take responsibility for his or her actions, to make things as right as possible with the victim, and to be clear about future intentions.”

DA Reisig recently wrote, “Neighborhood Court is one of the most innovative community-based diversion programs, run out of a local DA’s office, that you will find anywhere in the nation. It is a smart, measured application of transformational criminal justice reform. And, it is working!”

But the amazing is that Fresno has for 30 years been far ahead, bringing victims and offenders together.

Perhaps this DA’s election – if Mr. Reisig indeed holds on and wins – will push him to go much further with the Neighborhood Court program.  Time will tell.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Jeff M

    The problem with progressives is that they are never satisfied.  Because criticism of everything though the filter of fairness is their stock and trade, admitting progress would impact their identity as critics and leave them with nothing meaningful to do.

    I am reminded of something that I trained and mentored for hundreds of people during my career.  It is the difference between a project and a function.   The definition of a project from a corporate perspective is: “A temporary endeavor to deliver a unique product or service.”  The key word there is “temporary”.  Conversely, a function is ongoing.  However, don’t confuse on-going with permanent.   We see a great big problem when projects are mistaken for functions and those that should have a temporary role turn it into a career.  And we also have a problem where functions become institutions and resistant to the routine requirement of reformation.  This points to another malady here with respect to both projects and functions… they can can both suffer bureaucratic bloat and mission/scope creep.   This generally happens for the same reason that social justice activists have such a hard accepting progress… it is the hierarchical nature of the human (and others) animal.  It is also a money thing.

    In consideration of any individual social justice cause, they are projects.  Now, the collection of all causes might be considered the social justice program… as a program is a collection of related projects.  But nevertheless, once progress has been recognized the related project(s) should be closed and the project resources be deployed to the next project.

    In the Federal government, a program is absolutely seen as temporary… needing to be renewed by politicians.  But try to claim a program has achieved its primary objective and needs to be closed, and be prepared to the critics to attack.  Those having acquired some position of power/influence in the human hierarchy and/or have money flowing to them from the existence of the program will demand the program stay… thus becoming yet another institution resistant to reformation.

    But there is yet another mistake made when something that should be made a function is instead is perpetuated as a program.  This brings me back to neighborhood court.   Neighborhood court, and restorative justice methods, are proven effective in many types of cases.  There is enough evidence to justify reformation of our criminal justice institutions adding these currently unique services.

    Which then brings me back to the social justice activists and my opinion that they are making the opposite mistake having made an functional institution out of criticism of law enforcement instead of pursuing a project with a goal to implement restorative justice services into the standard judicial process.

    The sad thing about this is that these social justice activists would get support and help from someone like me to get this done instead of creating a social war over the role of law enforcement.

  2. Tia Will

    The problem with progressives is that they are never satisfied”

    How can one be “satisfied” when there is such economic and social inequities as we see now? Is it appropriate to be “satisfied” when one has everything one needs while one’s neighbor is in desperate need?


    1. Jeff M

      I love that you wear your bleeding heart on your sleeve.

      If you take 50 people and plop them on a deserted island to make a new society eventually they will organize in a hierarchy.  It is human nature.  Humans are pack animals.

      Soon the hierarchy would be based on talents and successes for producing things of value that can be traded.  Those having more production talents and successes would naturally end up higher up.

      You and people with your wiring within the community on that island would have your fairness and harm moral filter on high alert, and would organize into advocacy for those at the bottom of the hierarchy.  That would be fine except when you gain political power to demand that the hierarchy mechanism be changed to give power to those with bureaucratic talents and purpose rather than those with purpose and talents to produce value that can be traded.   Eventually to maintain that power you would need law enforcement support.

      And in the end it is really just a selfish pursuit of individual and tribal pecking order being the driving motivation… that despite all the virtue signalling.

      Therein exists the problem.  Your desired power pecking order for eliminating the deficits in societal fairness and too abundant harm create institutions that resist reformation and end up causing more wide-spread societal unfairness and harm.

      1. David Greenwald

        Who knew, Jeff is a Hobbesian.  But missing from his state of nature treatise is the fact that people can overcome their state of nature and progress.

        1. Howard P

          Well, as one of the “influenced by…” references to Hobbes on wikipedia is Machiavelli, guess that could be a truth, or a personal insult, depending on the moderators’ points of view…


        2. Jeff M

          But missing from his state of nature treatise is the fact that people can overcome their state of nature and progress.

          Not really IMO.  They can only can mask or deny what are common human traits.   I find the most educated people are often the least self-aware of their selfishness and competitive nature.

          I also see a common connection to the lack of personal self-control and education pursuit… that the former being a cause of insecurity that then led the individual to fill the gap with bookish smarts and academic credentials.  And in the end that person might be more qualified to exploit that education to speak in ways that help obscure the insecurity and lack of self-control for selfish pursuits… but eventually the act wears thin.

          This is a fundamental mistake of progressives.  It is also the reason why our system of governance and capitalism in general are designed as such and work so well.  Systems are the product of people and people are the product of their nature.  System evolve to suit the cravings of the people in power of system control.  A person can become self-aware of their nature and moderate their behaviors, decisions and actions in consideration of their nature; but fundamentally every motivation comes down to the pursuit of self interest… and the system can be cooped and corrupted because of it.

          In other words, we are never as sophisticated as we think we are.  Those that accept the brutishness and selfishness of the human animal are more apt to be right in their assessments of situations and relationships, and are often more often successful in business.   And those leaders that understand and accept this fundamentally selfish human nature reality can design systems that actually work.

        3. Tia Will

           But missing from his state of nature treatise is the fact that people can overcome their state of nature and progress.”

          And have done. Also missing from his analysis is the nature of the societies of the Native American Southwest in which the “natural state” was one in which all were provided with enough before others were provided with material excess and although there were leaders based on talent, this was not used to achieve great material excess nor to drive others into virtual slavery. It can be done. We just have chosen not to. Oh, and by the way, some of them were both matrilineal and matriarchal.

      2. Howard P

        Guess you never read “Lord of the Flies”…

        And, many achieving great fortunes did so, not by creating value themselves, but rather by leveraging, manipulating, ‘stealing’, exploiting, etc., value created by others



        1. David Greenwald

          Me or Jeff?

          Lord of the Flies is basically Hobbes.  Regardless, my point is that while stripping down humanity to its state of nature does produce tyranny, we can overcome that through innovation and institutions.  Not sure what this has to do with the lost opportunity of the neighborhood court though.

        2. Howard P

          Jeff, to be sure…

          Should you delete this, as it might be construed as a “personal attack” … see moderator’s post on another of today’s threads…

          Sure seems like you were concerned that previous post was a “personal attack”

  3. Tia Will

    The problem with progressives is that they are never satisfied”

    Says the man who criticizes me for my relative satisfaction with our downtown. The same man who says that we lack “places to shop” when virtually all of us have some form of access to the internet. Same man who says that there are no places to get a fine meal in Davis. Tell me, while I may not ever be satisfied with our degree of social equity, why is it that you seem to never be satisfied materially? Perhaps we may just have different values that leave us dissatisfied in different spheres?

    1. Howard P

      Clearly, an off-topic response by a current or former “moderator”… just saying…

      Topic is neighborhood court… elements of a personal attack  of another also off topic…

      DV  policy is obviously in the eyes of the beholder…

      We go from the topic (neighborhood court) to “progressives” (one poster), then an s-word attempt on a “rebuttal” by another poster (still on the editorial board?) based on the poster’s opinions on another poster, using downtown planning views (not expressed in this thread) , implied bias as to the fact/belief the other poster is a man (implicit bias?  As to how “men”think/believe?)… ’nuff said… pretty damn sure this comment will be deleted by the ones “in power”…

  4. Dave Hart

    Too bad this very interesting and even innovative program, Neighborhood Court, got derailed immediately in the comments.  David lodged some criticism of the program which Jeff M immediately ignored in favor of a rather long and I would suggest, boring, lecture on organizational structures and pitfalls and conflating all that with ‘progressives’.  Very unhelpful in understanding if the Neighborhood Court program is a success or failure.  So, even though this topic has been buried in the constant rush to one up each other on other topics, I’d like to make belated remarks on the actual topic as a Neighborhood Court volunteer.

    I think David’s criticism that too many of the cases brought to Neighborhood Court are over charged or would not have been charged in other jurisdictions is possibly true and at the same time not necessarily a bad thing.  If true, all it proves is that hundreds of petty crimes are being overlooked by DAs who are focusing on ‘bigger’, more serious crimes.  That is a rational management decision in the context of finite budgets and local political realities.

    The value in Neighborhood Court is that if you commit various low level crimes you have to answer for it, face to face, with real people.  So what if those crimes would not have been charged?  There is a lot of value in holding people accountable for their behavior and that is precisely what happens in Neighborhood Court.  That is a win for the community and the offender.

    David’s article puts the Neighborhood Court program in the context of our political choices for DA.  I can’t believe Johansson’s charge that Neighborhood Court plays a part in freeing up so many resources that Reisig can waste prosecutorial time overcharging felonies.  I think Reisig overcharges more serious cases for other, political reasons unrelated to Neighborhood Court and that is why I voted against Reisig in this election.  I don’t think I care for the manner in which either candidate has used Neighborhood Court as a campaign tool.

    Finally, I don’t think it is fair to compare the Fresno County restorative justice program with the one here in Yolo County.  The Yolo County program requires at least six hours of volunteer time in addition to DA staff time to move a Neighborhood Court “case” through to completion for a crime like vandalism or public intoxication where there is no individual victim.  But even ‘victimless’ misdemeanors require a lot of psychic or emotional effort by both volunteer panelists and the offender to arrive at an acceptable resolution.  It only makes sense to begin this program with the ‘low-hanging fruit’ of victimless crimes to develop expertise and experience in the volunteer corps as well as DA office staff for higher level crimes.  When you take on more serious crimes like battery or assault against an individual, the time requirement of staff and volunteers increases exponentially.

    Neighborhood Court is a great asset and Reisig can take credit for implementing it in Yolo County regardless of his motives.  Give him his due.  Just because he may not be the best person for DA doesn’t necessarily mean every single thing he touches is bad.

    In fact, the Neighborhood Court program should be implemented in all 58 counties.  There is no downside to it and it’s innovative if for no other reason than you can count up all the restorative justice programs run by DAs in California on one hand.

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