‘Restorative justice’ comes to Contra Costa County

Through a cooperative effort of Impact Justice, Richmond’s RYSE Youth Center and the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office, Contra Costa County will have the fourth restorative justice diversion program in California.

Such systems are in place in Alameda, San Francisco and Los Angeles counties as well as in Davidson County, Tennessee, according to an announcement released through Impact Justice, a national research center based in Oakland.

Restorative justice allows young people ways to be accountable for harm they have caused without entering the juvenile legal system, the announcement said.

“The current criminal legal system perpetuates harm by not prioritizing meaningful accountability,” said Ashlee George, associate director of Impact Justice’s Restorative Justice Project.

“Survivors deserve to have their needs met and young people who’ve caused harm deserve opportunities to take responsibility. Community-led restorative justice diversion serves both needs,” George said.

This is the first youth diversion program offered by the Contra Costas County District Attorney’s Office. It is a pilot program that is using a pre-charge model of diversion developed by Impact Justice’s Restorative Justice Projects.

The program focuses on youth of color to reduce the high levels of racial and ethnic disparities that exist in the criminal and juvenile legal systems, the announcement said. In 2014, black youth in Contra Costa County were 14 times more likely to be confined compared to white youth, the announcement said.

An evaluation of a similar program in Alameda County shows restorative justice diversion works, the announcement said.

Youth who participated in a diversion process were 44 percent less likely to repeat the bad behavior, compared to youth who were processed through the juvenile legal system, the announcement said.

Nine out of 10 of those harmed and those who caused the harm said the restorative justice process beneficial.

When a minor is arrested for a serious misdemeanor or a felony, such as robbery, burglary or assault, the district attorney may refer the case to RYSE Youth Center.

There, the young person responsible for the act may have a supervised face-to-face meeting with the person harmed, family members and other impacted community members. The harmed person decides whether to consent to the meeting.

A consensus-based plan to make things right is created, and once the youth completes the plan, no charges are filed.

“Our young people need restorative justice diversion.” said Stephanie Medley, Education and Justice director at RYSE Youth Center. “We can create a healthier community by treating young people as valuable, contributing members even when they cause harm.”

Impact Justice will provide training and technical assistance to RYSE Youth Center and District Attorney Diana Becton’s staff for creating this accountability process.

“I have seen first-hand as a former superior court judge and now district attorney how the criminal justice system is not doing enough to support our youth,” Becton said.

“Traditionally, the way our criminal justice system handled crimes committed by youth has not always worked. At the same time, restorative justice diversion leads to greater victim satisfaction and creates a space for our youth to make amends with victims impacted by harm,” she said. “With this proven restorative justice diversion program we can start to move in a new direction, to reduce youth involvement in the justice system, and lower recidivism rates.”

The average cost of a diversion case is estimated to be around $10,000, the announcement said. By comparison, in 2016, it cost $143,000 to lock up one child for one year in a Contra Costa County juvenile facility.

Training for Contra Costa County’s restorative justice diversion program will start this summer, and the cases are expected to begin before the end of the year. The pilot program will last five years, the announcement said.

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