OAKLAND, Calif. – When a juvenile is accused of a crime, making them face the victim, take responsibility and make amends works better than prosecution and jail time, according to a new report.
The Oakland area adopted a restorative-justice approach 9 years ago, and in just the first two years, 102 youths were diverted from the criminal-justice system, giving them a second chance to get back on track.
Community Works West administers the program in Alameda County. Its conference coordinator, Jenna Kress, noted that kids who took part were almost 44% less likely to commit another crime within 12 months.
“[The program] showed an 18.4% recidivism rate in Alameda County, where the traditional juvenile legal system shows a 32.1% recidivism rate with a control group,” said Kress.
The process works like this: if the district attorney and the victim agree, the young person accused of a crime goes through a restorative-justice program and takes responsibility for the crime. He or she will often face the victim, apologize and agree to make amends. This might include going through an anger-management program, paying the victim back in the case of a theft, or performing community service.
If successful, the charges are dropped.
The nonprofit Impact Justice has worked with community groups, police, the district attorney and probation officers in Alameda, Contra Costa, Los Angeles and San Francisco counties, to implement this approach.
According to Senior Program Associate Sia Henry, the current system is unfair to young people of color, leaving a disproportionate number behind bars or expelled from school.
As Henry put it, “It’s a great alternative to suspensions and expulsions, and a great way to lead to police-free schools.”
The report also found that victims have a 91% satisfaction rate with the program, and cited a huge cost savings. For example, the Restorative Community Conference program in Oakland averages about $4,500 per case, compared to Alameda County probation costs, which average $23,000 per year.