News / USA

Instead of Prison, an Apology and a Second Chance

A California group has pioneered a dispute resolution system called restorative justice, which works to keep youthful offenders out of jail. (File photo)A California group has pioneered a dispute resolution system called restorative justice, which works to keep youthful offenders out of jail. (File photo)
x
A California group has pioneered a dispute resolution system called restorative justice, which works to keep youthful offenders out of jail. (File photo)
A California group has pioneered a dispute resolution system called restorative justice, which works to keep youthful offenders out of jail. (File photo)
The path to prison often starts at a young age. Minor rule infractions and misbehavior can quickly lead to punishable offenses. One organization in Oakland, California wants to put an end to that prison pipeline.

Community Works was one of the first non-profits to pioneer an alternative dispute resolution system called restorative justice, which works to keep youthful offenders out of the criminal justice system.

The effort has the support of Alameda County prosecutor Matthew Golde, who'd seen scores of young people imprisoned over the years and realized locking them up wasn't working.

"We know what happens when you incarcerate juveniles for a long period of time," Golde said. "They come out worse. For the vast majority, it is empirically not the best thing to do. So the question is 'What do we do?'"

Restorative justice

John, 16, got caught tagging a building with graffiti and hit a police officer while resisting arrest.

He could have been charged with three felonies and fined up to $250,000. However, rather than face prison time, John agreed to go through a restorative justice conference facilitated by Community Works, which works in collaboration with the Alameda County district attorney's office.

Today, the teenager is reading his letter of apology to the officer.

"I'm sorry for my actions on March 17, 2013, when you tried to stop me on the street in Berkeley. There is no excuse for what I did. I still don't understand why I did it, but I do understand what a terrible choice it was to make in the moment," John said. "Hurting you was not my intention. I was only focused on getting away."

John's mother attended the conference, along with his father and the police officer he assaulted. They sat in a circle, speaking directly to each other. With the assistance of Community Works facilitator Melissa Saavedra, they agreed on a restitution plan; John will perform 20 hours of community service and do chores for his parents. 

"He's monitored very closely by myself with the support of mom and dad," Saavedra said. "We go through a plan and do right by the victim."

Second chances

John was given a second chance and can return to school with no criminal record.

The chances that he will stay out of trouble in the future are very good, according to Sujatha Baliga, Restorative Justice director with the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, who says studies show offenders who go through restorative conferencing are less likely to re-offend.

"In Alameda County, just initial data shows about a 20 percent recidivism rate in our restorative juvenile diversion program here, which is compared to the 75 percent recidivism rate at the county level for similar crimes," Baliga said. "What we know is that there are reduced recidivism rates, so that's huge-when people have the opportunity to meet face-to-face with the people that they harmed and apologize and complete a plan to repair that harm, their chances of re-offending plummet."

Modern take on old practice

While restorative justice may be a novel concept to most Americans, it's a system that dates back hundreds of years. It was used by Native American tribes and the aborigines of New Zealand.

The modern-day restorative practice was started in the mid-1970s by Mennonites in Ontario and has since spread to other parts of the world. Because it's relatively new to the United States, the approach doesn't have a proven track record yet.

Last year, Community Works received a federal grant to implement a restorative justice program for youthful offenders in Alameda County. In partnership with the district attorney's office and the probation department, the organization now handles 100 cases a year. The program will soon expand to nearby San Francisco.  

"I think it's remarkable that, in a relatively short time, we're this far," said Morgan. "I mean, the D.A. [district attorney] in San Francisco and Oakland are on board with doing a serious pilot of this. We'll see what the outcomes are. But if we get the outcomes we expect, I think it's going to spread and I think the numbers of cases we get will exponentially increase."

Restorative practices have now spread to public schools in the San Francisco and Oakland area. Teachers and administrators are using restorative circles and conferencing to reduce student suspensions and expulsions. And prosecutor Matthew Golde is hopeful that one day, restorative justice will be used in all juvenile offender cases in Alameda County.

You May Like

Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Seen as a potential driver of recovery, Cairo’s plan to expand waterway had been raising hopes to give country much needed economic boost More

Ebola Maternity Ward in Sierra Leone First of its Kind

Country already had one of world's highest maternal mortality rates before Ebola arrived, virus has added even more complications to health care More

Malaysia Flight 370 Disappearance Ruled Accident

Aircraft disappeared on March 8, 2014; with ruling, families of 239 passengers and crew can now seek compensation from airline More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Zonia from: San Leandro
October 09, 2013 1:05 AM
My son was in Juvenal Hall when he was 16 for a minor offense, sadly I did not hear of this program before and now two years later when he was a 4.0 gpa at school, had a job he commited something the led him to jail where he is facing soon a 13 years sentence at the age of 19. A young lost teenager with a future ahead is being imprissoned in San Quintin with no chance to get a lower fair sentence since he did not kill anyone.
What do people have to do to know about this programs before their children make very bad criminal desicions? Are juvenal halls talking to parents and trying to educate them once their kids get into probation?
We need help, especially single mothers where the lack of a paternal model, poverty and other factors led this kiddos to ruin their life in just a second, especially Latino ones.!

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Groundbreaking Hand-Painted Documentary About Van Gogh in Productioni
X
George Putic
January 29, 2015 9:43 PM
The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Groundbreaking Hand-Painted Documentary About Van Gogh in Production

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Super Bowl Ads Compete for Eyes on TV, Web

Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 1) is about more than just the NFL's American football championship and big parties to watch the game. Viewers also tune in for the world famous commercials that send Facebook and Twitter abuzz. Daniela Schrier reports on the social media rewards for America’s priciest advertising.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Freedom on Decline Worldwide, Report Says

The state of global freedom declined for the ninth consecutive year in 2014, according to global watchdog Freedom House's annual report released Wednesday. VOA's William Gallo has more.
Video

Video MRI Seems to Help Diagnose Prostate Cancer, Preliminary Study Shows

Just as with mammography used to detect breast cancer, there's a lot of controversy about tests used to diagnose prostate cancer. Fortunately, a new study shows doctors may now have a more reliable way to diagnose prostate cancer for high risk patients. More from VOA's Carol Pearson.
Video

Video Smartphones About to Make Leap, Carry Basic Senses

Long-distance communication contains mostly sounds and pictures - for now. But scientists in Britain say they are close to creating additions for our smartphones that will make it possible to send taste, smell and even a basic touch. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.
Video

Video Crowded Republican Presidential Field Off to Early Start for 2016

It seems early, but the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign is already heating up. Though no one has officially announced a candidacy, several potential Republican contenders have been busy speaking to conservative groups about making a White House run next year. Many of the possible contenders are critical of the Obama administration’s foreign policy record. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid