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Testing the Efficacy of Pretrial Diversion: A Randomized Trial at the San Francisco Neighborhood Courts

Award Information

Award #
Funding Category
Competitive Discretionary
Congressional District
Funding First Awarded
Total funding (to date)

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2018, $750,000)

The applicant proposes a process, impact, and cost study of San Francisco’s Neighborhood Courts program that redirects theft and other low-level misdemeanor offenders from traditional case processing through restorative justice hearings. Community service and other remedies are identified by civilian adjudicators trained by the San Francisco Pretrial Diversion and Community Board; successful completion over 60 days results in case dismissal, and failure results in court filing. Research questions include: what are the barriers inhibiting the potential success of a restorative justice diversion program; what is the impact of a restorative justice program on case outcomes and rearrest; what are the tangible and intangible costs of a restorative justice program to the community; and what is the impact of a restorative justice program on defendants’ perceptions of procedural justice, legal pressure, and readiness for change? Research methods include: 1) case study; 2) random control trial (RCT); 3) interviews with participants and comparison defendants; and 4) community survey. Updating program and policy information from an FY2012 NIJ study, the case study collects information via site visit observation and interviews with police and other stakeholders on implementation challenges and resources for thematic analysis. The program administrator will randomly assign about 300 eligible defendants (150 @ participant versus comparison) to the program for 18 months observation of effects on (and time to) incarceration, disposition, sentence, and rearrest outcomes using program, District Attorney’s Office, and California Department of Justice data. They will work with DatStat (patient data capture platform) to develop and implement semi-structured interviews with participant and comparison group offenders at baseline and four months followup to measure satisfaction, accountability, and perceptions of the criminal justice system. They will develop and conduct a discrete choice analysis experiment via 15-minute online Qualtrics survey (English and Spanish) of about 1,400 San Francisco residents to gauge tax value tradeoff from the community perspective. Proposed work products include a research brief for practitioner audiences and a presentation at an Association of Prosecuting Attorneys meeting.

"Note: This project contains a research and/or development component, as defined in applicable law," and complies with Part 200 Uniform Requirements - 2 CFR 200.210(a)(14).


Date Created: August 31, 2018