Restorative Community Conferencing
A second chance restorative justice program for youth in Alameda and San Francisco
Most modern justice systems focus on a crime, a lawbreaker, and a punishment. But a concept called “restorative justice” considers harm done and strives for agreement from all concerned — the victims, the offender and the community — on making amends. Restorative justice allows victims, who often feel shut out of the prosecutorial process, a way to be heard and participate. Restorative justice takes a number of forms, but perhaps the most prominent is restorative-justice diversion, which according to a University of Pennsylvania study in 2007, is effective at reducing recidivism. Typically, a facilitator meets separately with the accused and the victim, and if both are willing to meet face to face without animosity and the offender is deemed willing and able to complete restitution, then the case shifts out of the legal system and into a parallel restorative-justice process. All parties — the offender, victim, facilitator, and law enforcement — come together in a forum called a restorative-community conference. Each person speaks, one at a time and without interruption, about the crime and its effects, and the participants come to a consensus about how to repair the harm done.
This is a largely unknown and underutilized approach, despite the fact that it offers a way to interrupt the spiral of over-incarceration, rising costs, racial disparities, and unfavorable outcomes for victims, communities and those responsible for crimes. However, the federal government has recently launched a three-year pilot initiative to test the efficacy of restorative justice as a way to address youth crime. CW is one of fifteen organizations to receive such funding (through the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation/Corrections Standards Authority), specifically to implement and evaluate the approach of Restorative Community Conferencing (RCC).
The Restorative Community Conferencing Program began in January 2012 and has successfully diverted 110 Alameda County youth from criminal prosecution. In June 2013, Community Works, in partnership with the San Francisco District Attorney's Office, launched a Restorative Community Conferencing Program in San Francisco.
WHAT WE DO
The program uses restorative justice principles and practices to divert 100 Alameda County juveniles annually from prosecution through the RCC process. After preparatory meetings for the responsible youth, the person harmed, and other community stakeholders, an RCC culminates in a 2 – 3 hour meeting for those affected by the crime. The RCC holds the young person directly accountable to the person who was harmed. The youth and their family, with victim and community input, are then responsible for developing a plan that addresses the harm and does right by the victim. With support from conferencing staff, the youth completes their plan and the charges against the youth are not filed. This program is the first of its kind and scope to address youth crimes in a major U.S. urban area with an explicit goal of reducing racial disparities in diversion and directly affecting disproportionate minority contact.
- Opportunity to hear youth take responsibility for what happened
- Opportunity to hear youth admit that what they did was wrong
- Opportunity to have their questions answered about the incident
- Opportunity to express how the incident affected them and their loved ones
- Opportunity to have a say in how to make things right
For youth responsible for the crime:
- Participation is voluntary
- Opportunity to regain the trust of their parents and loved ones
- Non-adversarial meeting with the victim
- Participation in development of plan to do right by those harmed
- Support in completing plan that includes gaining a skill in something of their choosing
- Having the case closed without charges filed against them