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

Obama: Alaskans Feel Signs of Climate Change

They're seeing bigger storm surges as sea ice melts, more wildfires, erosion of glaciers, shorelines More

1855 Slave Brochure Starkly Details Sale of Black Americans

Document lists entire families that were up for sale in New Orleans, offering graphic insight into the slavery trade More

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries 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.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs