San Diego Community Justice Initiative (CJI) is a post-plea program for offenders who commit low-level misdemeanors. It allows offenders to have their case dismissed by completing 16 hours of community service.
CJI provides swift consequences for individuals who commit low-level misdemeanors, but with the opportunity to have that criminal conviction quickly dismissed. Low-level misdemeanors that qualify include "quality of life" offenses that affect communities, such as petty theft, minor vandalism, illegal lodging, and trespass offenses.
Participants complete community service by planting trees, recycling waste products, painting out graffiti, clearing neighborhoods of illegally dumped trash, and helping to provide services to the homeless. Since 2014, participants have completed over 20,000 hours of community work service.
CJI is facilitated through the City Attorney's Criminal Division. The Criminal Division participates in problem-solving courts which use restorative justice principles to address quality-of-life crimes.
Note: Do not contact the City Attorney's Office about receiving a CJI offer for yourself or another. Offers are made only through defense counsel during court proceedings
Here's how the program works:
- The City Attorney's Office, upon reviewing a case, may elect to offer CJI to individuals charged with low-level misdemeanors. The offer is made during a defendant's first court appearance, usually arraignment.
- If the offer is rejected, the case proceeds as it normally would. There will be no subsequent CJI offer.
- If the offer is accepted, the defendant enters a guilty plea and is referred to a non-profit service provider -- either Alpha Project or Urban Corps of San Diego County -- to complete 16 hours of supervised community service within 60 days. Participants must pay a $150 administrative fee; indigent slots are available for those who cannot afford the fee.
- Once all conditions are met, the case is dismissed by the City Attorney's Office. The participant does not have to return to court, and the conviction will be dismissed.
- Participants who fail to meet the conditions must return to court in 90 days for sentencing of two or five days in jail, plus probation in some instances.
In 2016, CJI expanded to include risk screening and needs assessments with validated tools. Every CJI participant is offered a risk screening at court. Participants who score medium or high are offered the opportunity to complete a needs assessment and to meet with a Case Manager at Alpha Project. The participant can satisfy their community service obligation by developing and implementing an individualized case plan with their Case Manager that connects them with needed social services.
In addition to having their criminal case dismissed, the program helps participants by exposing them to the services offered by Alpha Project and Urban Corps, which include job referrals, education centers, and treatment programs.
This potential for early intervention and fresh direction in the lives of low-level misdemeanor offenders is one reason the City Attorney's Office is as inclusive as possible in making CJI offers.
However, the City Attorney’s Office retains discretion over who receives offers, and certain types of offenses -- including DUI, domestic violence, sex offenses, child and elder abuse, and arson - warrant automatic exclusion.
CJI’s goals include a reduction in recidivism, a reduction in courthouse crowding and costs by limiting the number of court hearings, a reduction in jail crowding and costs by lowering inmate levels, and reductions in law-enforcement costs by removing the need for police officers to testify.
As a result, our courts and jails will be able to focus resources on more serious crimes and the criminals who commit them, and our law-enforcement personnel are spending more time on the streets.
In addition to Alpha Project and the Urban Corps, partners in the program include the Public Defender's Office and the Sheriff's Department.
The American Civil Liberties Union has praised the program for taking "a common-sense approach to handling misdemeanor offenses."