In March of this year, the City Attorney’s office announced a new program that allows repeat nonviolent drug offenders to avoid jail time if they live in government housing and undergo drug treatment and counseling over a two-year period. The program, however, is off to a rocky start as it requires significant funding and the coordination of the prosecutor’s office, local courts, the San Diego Housing Commission, and drug counselors and treatment providers.
San Diego Puts Low-Level Drug Offenders to Work Instead of Behind Bars
The new drug offender program is the latest installment of San Diego’s “Community Justice Initiative,” which City Attorney Jan Goldsmith launched two years ago. The initiative’s goal is to allow people charged with some misdemeanors to avoid formal prosecution, jail time, and a criminal record if they complete 16 hours of community service and pay a fine.
Since 2014, over 1,500 San Diego Community Justice Initiative (CJI) participants have completed over 20,000 hours of community service. They’ve planted trees, recycled trash, removed graffiti, provided services to the homeless, and kept the city’s neighborhoods clean.
The only misdemeanors that are excluded from the program are:
How Does Enrollment in the CJI Program Work?
The City Attorney’s Criminal Division oversees the Community Justice Initiative. They review cases involving misdemeanors and offer some suspects the chance to participate at their first court appearance, called an arraignment. If the suspect refuses, the case proceeds normally. If the suspect accepts the offer, they must enter a plea of guilty and pay a $120 administrative fee – although some offenders may qualify for free enrollment.
Once the participant has completed the community service requirement – or in the case of a drug offender, counseling, and treatment – the criminal case will be dismissed by the prosecutor’s office. This means no criminal record, although the record of your arrest will still be visible. Participants who fail to meet the program’s requirement will face the usual criminal penalties of jail time and probation.
CJI Program for Drug Offenders Requires Additional Funding and Coordination
Offenders with drug problems can avoid jail time by staying in government housing and undergoing treatment. As of now, 28 beds in local government housing units have been secured, which is not enough to cover the needs of the program. Fortunately, the federal government provided the CJI this year with a $425,000 grant to fund its expansion and operations.
This latest round of funding, however, will not cover the expansion needed for the program to meet the community’s needs. According to Attorney Goldsmith, the program might need as many as 300 beds dedicated to the housing of the city’s most persistent chronic drug users and offenders. Until then, the best option for people accused of drug crimes will be to fight their charges and to obtain the dismissal of their case or an acquittal.
McElfresh Law Can Help
At McElfresh Law, we are passionate about defending the rights to the criminally accused as they face the criminal justice system. What underpins this passion is our belief that people deserve a second chance and that mass incarceration is neither a just nor a financially practicable solution to our community’s public safety and health issues.
If you’ve been charged with a criminal offense, call us today at (858) 756-7107 for a free and confidential consultation of your case.