Neighborhood Courts

Community-driven restorative justice, an alternative to criminal court.

Promoting innovative solutions to low level crime by resolving cases with the help of community volunteers. A division of the District Attorney



The Neighborhood Courts program is a community driven, pre-filing diversion program designed to divert low level misdemeanor offenses from entering the criminal justice system.

First time offenders are given an opportunity to take responsibility and repair the harm they caused through a community-based process using restorative justice principles instead of a courtroom.

Neighborhood Courts address criminal violations that impact the quality of life in the community and are an alternative to entering into criminal court.

The purpose of the program is to: reduce recidivism by understanding why offenders offend, address the harm the offense had on the victim (if applicable) and the community and, using restorative principles rather than punitive principles, effectively and efficiently restore the local community, victim and offender back into community.




Eligible cases are diverted by the District Attorney’s Office into the Neighborhood Courts program. While participation is voluntary and confidential, participants must be willing to take responsibility for their actions that caused harm. Victims are invited to participate on a voluntary basis. A Panel of trained community volunteers meet with the participant and victim (if applicable) in a relaxed, confidential space, in what is called a conference. During the Conference, volunteer panelists and the participant discuss:

  • Harms caused to victim (if applicable) and community
  • Root of why the crime happened
  • Panelist and participant work together to select directives that are specific, reasonable,attainable, and restorative to the participant, victim, and community.
  • Once the participant successfully completes the directives, the case will be dismissed. The participant is given a second chance because the conviction will not be on their record. If needed, the participants may be referred to additional services offered in the community. If a case is not resolved in Neighborhood Courts, it will be re-routed back to the District Attorney’s Office.


Are you interested in becoming a volunteer panelist?
Join our volunteer team. Neighborhood Courts volunteers are essential to the success of the program. Volunteer panelists are community members that are trained in restorative justice, cultural competency, effective communication, facilitation, and problemsolving skills. The District Attorney’s Office strives to create a diverse group of volunteer panelists throughout the County of Santa Cruz who are from different diverse socioeconomic, cultural, gender, age, and professional backgrounds.

Requirements to become a volunteer panelist:

  • Complete the application (see below)
  • Pass a background check (Immigrant status will not be checked)
  • Complete volunteer panelist training
  • Observe two Neighborhood Court conferences
  • Two-year time commitment (1 year if student)





Thank you to our local Law Enforcement and Judicial Officers throughout Santa Cruz County. Conflict Resolution Center of Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz County Adult Probation, and other local Community Board Organizations.


For questions about Neighborhood Courts, please contact Elaine Johnson at