City of San Diego, various agencies launch program to help chronic misdemeanor offenders

Posted at 5:22 PM, Dec 05, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-05 21:52:23-05

SAN DIEGO - The city of San Diego and other agencies Monday launched a pilot program aimed at providing substance abuse help and social services to chronic misdemeanor offenders.

The San Diego Misdemeanants At-Risk Track -- or SMART -- has been under development for several months and includes partnerships with the San Diego Housing Commission, police and sheriff's departments, Family Health Centers of San Diego and the American Civil Liberties Union, among others.

The Second Chance program will provide housing.

The offenders targeted by the program are heavy users of public resources and are resistant to receiving help that would turn their lives around, Mayor Kevin Faulconer said.

"Some are addicted to drugs and alcohol, some have problems with mental illness, some are homeless -- they need our help," Faulconer said at a news conference. "Because each individual can have a different story, we need to tailor treatment to help each particular person."

City Attorney Jan Goldsmith said the criminal justice system isn't equipped to deal with such people, who continue with their offenses because they don't face consequences for their conduct.

"SMART offers a different approach, an offer of meaningful help -- not just one night in a bed, but up to two years as long as they are the needed treatment," Goldsmith said. "Our part is to provide the consistency of a bed. (The offenders) part is to provide participation and treatment, and that is meaningful."

City officials said the population of chronic low-level criminals has risen in San Diego since state Proposition 47, which lowered penalties for certain crimes, was implemented.

The program, which will start in the San Diego Police Department's Central Division in and around downtown, will focus on people with acute drug addictions and social service needs, particularly those arrested since Proposition 47 took effect in 2014.

"I was at a point in my life where I needed change," said Second Chance graduate Jon-David Hernandez.

Hernandez credits a program similar to SMART to saving his life. Just three years ago, Hernandez had a good job, but he was then got caught embezzling and served time in jail.

"I couldn't get a job due to my felonies, and so I continued in my criminal behavior," said Hernandez.

Hernandez got in trouble again for credit card fraud and identity theft. On top of all of that, he had a drug addiction.

"When I was going in and out of jail, I didn't hear about any services like this," said Hernandez.

He said without the Second Chance program, he'd still be doing drugs and still be committing crimes.

"I'd probably be back in jail," said Hernandez.

Police, prosecutors and social service representatives will offer the SMART program participation during routine contacts, arrests, arraignment, sentencing and while suspects are in custody.

Incoming City Attorney Mara Elliott said she fully supports the program and will seek additional state funding to expand it while she's in office.

"I just had enough of going in and out of jail," said Hernandez.

He now pays it forward by volunteering 32 hours a week at Second Chance. Some of his duties include sending information about Second Chance to inmates.

"When these inmates get out, they have something to look forward to," said Hernandez.

It costs $150 a night to house an inmate in jail. City leaders say the SMART program will help save taxpayer money in the long run and help save lives.

Hernandez also credits the birth of his daughter as a turning point in his life. He starts a new job in January as an apprentice with the local sheet metal union.