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Restorative Justice and Diversion Programs

City Attorney Mara W. Elliott has prioritized innovative criminal diversion programs to stop the revolving door to the criminal justice system and provide low-level offenders with the support they need to get a fresh start on their lives.

A criminal record can be a barrier to employment, education, housing and other opportunities. If you have been convicted of a crime and wish to seek expungement, you can learn more about Criminal Record Relief. If you believe you were wrongly listed in a gang injunction, you can learn more about removal from gang injunctions.

San Diego Misdemeanants At-Risk Track (S.M.A.R.T.) Program 

rendering of SMART facilityThe City Attorney’s Office created the San Diego Misdemeanants At-Risk Track (S.M.A.R.T.) Program, which aims to prevent low-level misdemeanor drug offenders from cycling through the criminal justice system without access to services. S.M.A.R.T. safely connects chronic misdemeanor drug offenders, particularly those who are otherwise resistant to intervention, to a case manager and offers personalized treatment and tailored housing placements. 

Building on the initial success of the program, the City acquired and renovated a facility, SMART on Palm, that can house up to 81 people as they participate in on-site addiction treatment and counseling programs. Participants will have access to community kitchens, laundry facilities, fitness rooms, classrooms, meeting spaces, living rooms, garden space, and ADA-compliant accommodations.

Living at SMART on Palm will offer participants secure, supportive housing for up to two years, until they are able to transition to their own permanent housing. The S.M.A.R.T. program is designed to transform the lives of those who otherwise might not have the opportunity to get off the streets and become productive and self-sufficient citizens.

Theodore Dizon, S.M.A.R.T. Graduate

The S.M.A.R.T. Program is a collaboration between the San Diego City Attorney’s Office, the San Diego County Office of the Public Defender, the County of San Diego Behavioral Health Services Department, the San Diego Police Department, the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, and Family Health Centers of San Diego, with support from the American Civil Liberties Union.

Prosecution and Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion Services (PLEADS)

As part of an ongoing effort to get low-level drug offenders off the streets and into treatment, City Attorney Mara W. Elliott and the SDPD launched Prosecution and Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion Services (PLEADS) in 2019. 

PLEADS is a voluntary, pre-booking diversion pathway for individuals suspected of being under the influence of a controlled substance in public. It allows them to avoid prosecution and jail time by agreeing to seek addiction-treatment and other support services. 

The PLEADS process begins when law enforcement officers contact qualifying individuals and inform them that they can choose to seek treatment rather than be booked into jail and potentially prosecuted for being under the influence. Anyone choosing treatment is sent to the Sobering Services Center run by McAlister Institute, where trained staff assess them and link them to local programs ranging from inpatient and outpatient services, to detox, and other appropriate services.

Many PLEADS participants were in a cycle of arrest and jail that often led to homelessness, but through the program, they can get a chance to make a new start. Importantly, PLEADS also saves costs by reducing time spent by first responders, including emergency medical technicians, and preserves health care resources by cutting down on expensive, unnecessary emergency room visits.;

Community Justice Initiative (CJI)

In 2014, the City Attorney’s Office launched the Community Justice Initiative, which gives second chances to individuals who commit low-level crime. CJI allows misdemeanor convictions to be dismissed if an offender performs 16 hours of community service through one of its non-profit partners, Urban Corps of San Diego County and Alpha Project. Since its inception, CJI participants have contributed more than 45,000 hours of hands-on community service, ranging from canyon cleanups to assisting with homeless service programs, and have accessed educational, job training, and treatment programs. 

CJI's goal is to prevent low-level offenders from having a criminal conviction on their records, which often is a barrier to employment, school admission, housing, and job advancement, and increases the likelihood that they will go on to commit more serious crimes.

Additional benefits from the program include reducing recidivism, courthouse crowding, and related costs by limiting the number of court hearings. As a result, courts, law-enforcement personnel and prosecutors are able to focus resources on more serious crimes.


“With our Community Justice Initiative, we’re offering a second chance to individuals who made a mistake,” said City Attorney Mara W. Elliott. “We are encouraged to see that CJI not only has a positive impact on individual participants’ lives, but also the broader San Diego community who benefits from the tens of thousands of hours of community service that improves the quality of life in our neighborhoods.”  

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