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

China Investigates Former Powerful Security Chief

Former security chief and member of Politburo Standing Committee, Zhou Yongkang, under investigation for suspected 'serious disciplinary violation' More

India, US Look to Reset Ties During Kerry Visit

This week's talks will be first high level interaction between two countries since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took charge More

Video Young African Leadership Program Renamed to Honor Mandela

YALI program, launched by President Obama in 2010, aims to build skills in business, entrepreneurship, public management and civic leadership 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.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid