Contra Costa County Launches Juvenile Restorative Justice Program

Above: Representatives from Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton’s Office, Impact Justice, and RYSE Youth Center staff sign an agreement to bring restorative justice diversion to Contra Costa County.

By Michael J. Fitzgerald

Contra Costa County plans to begin training staff this summer for its first youth restorative justice diversion program, a joint effort of the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office, the RYSE Youth Center and Impact Justice.

The first cases will be heard by the end of the year, part of a five-year pilot program.

With this new effort, Contra Costa joins Alameda, San Francisco and Los Angeles counties that offer restorative justice diversion.

Diversion programs are designed to give young people the chance to take accountability for any harm they may have caused without getting tangled in the juvenile legal system.

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

The Contra Costa County program will use a restorative justice model developed by Impact Justice, an Oakland-based nonprofit that works to reduce the number of people in the criminal justice system.

When a minor is arrested for a serious misdemeanor or a felony, such as assault, burglary or robbery, the district attorney’s office can send the case the RYSE Youth Center. The center then facilitates a face-to-face meeting among the person harmed, the young offender, family members and possibly other impacted community members.

A plan is then drafted among the group that all participants agree will make the situation right for all parties. If the young person completes the agreed-upon plan, no charges are filed.

“Our young people need restorative justice diversion,” Stephanie Medley, Education and Justice director at RYSE Youth Center, said in a press release. “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 on how to create the process.

The program is expected to focus on youth of color to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in the criminal and juvenile legal systems. In 2014, black youth in Contra Costa County were 14 times more likely to be confined compared to white youth, according to data from the District Attorney’s office.

The program is expected to lower costs to the public, too.

Becton’s office says that the average cost of a diversion case is approximately $10,000. In 2016, it cost $143,000 to incarcerate a single youth for a year in a Contra Costa County juvenile facility.

“I have seen firsthand 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 in a press release. “Restorative justice diversion leads to greater victim satisfaction, and creates a space for our youth to make amends with victims impacted by harm.”

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