The three woman, who comprised the recent Neighborhood Courts panel, chat briefly after the proceedings. File photo.

Once a week in the Mission, a panel of community members sits at a desk and delivers sentences to “johns,” public urinators and graffiti generators.

Punishments can range from a fine to an apology letter, but the real benefit is that these non-violent offenders aren’t clogging up the court system, which saves the city $900 for every case, according to District Attorney George Gascon.

These are the community courts, which began as a pilot program in the Mission in May 2011. Now the district attorney wants to expand them citywide by this summer.

“I call the Mission the bread and butter of the program,” said Assistant District Attorney Rebecca Prozan. “The police have been extraordinary partners, the community have been extraordinary partners.”

Community courts have been around in one version or another since 1998. Critics say they don’t work because there are many no-shows: just 10 percent of those charged with infractions and 30 percent charged with misdemeanors show up at the courts, according to the latest figures, from September 2011.

No-shows are also a problem in the court system and 75 percent of those who do show up follow through with the programs, Prozan said. Community courts at the Bayview, Mission and Park police stations have collectively heard 400 cases.

Gascon said he likes what he sees and wants to expand the scope of the program to include drug possession and some cases of theft.

“We are trying to evaluate which ones are the appropriate cases to send here,” he said. “If it’s their first and second arrest and [they] don’t have a history of heavy addiction and there is no other criminal attachment, then it’s good for the court, it’s good for the people.”

Elder Financial Abuse and Discrimination in the LGBTQ Community

Gascon also told a pack of reporters on Thursday about testimony he heard at a meeting with the LGBTQ community.

“I was surprised by the fact that some of the centers that are designated to provide service for the elderly, that often discrimination is occurring based on your status as a member of the LGBT community,” he said. “Frankly, that was not an area that I would have expected in San Francisco.”

He added that his office is working on ways to conduct outreach in that community.

On Monday, Gascon announced the implementation of a campaign against elder financial abuse for May, which is Elder Abuse Awareness Month.

“Recent immigrants, the elderly; we have a lot of communities who are marginalized. They are ashamed, they think somehow it was their fault,” Gascon said. “The ones that need the most help are the least likely to report.”

According to state figures, about 200,000 seniors in California are financially abused each year, and as few as 1 in 24 cases are reported.

The fraud hotline is available in English, Cantonese, Mandarin and Spanish: (415) 553-9353.

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Rigoberto Hernandez is a journalism student at San Francisco State University. He has interned at The Oregonian and The Orange County Register, but prefers to report on the Mission District. In his spare time he can be found riding his bike around the city, going to Giants games and admiring the Stable building.

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