Restorative Justice for Youthful Offenders

    02 October, 2013


    From VOA Learning English, this is the Education Report.

    The path to prison often starts at a young age. One way to keep young offenders out of the criminal justice system is called restorative justice.

    One of the first non-profits organizations to use this method is Community Works in Oakland, California. The organization now handles 100 cases a year, it works in partnership with the district attorney's office and the probation department.

    Matthew Golde is a prosecutor in the district attorney's office. He says prison is not the best solution for most young people who commit a crime.

    "We know what happens when you incarcerate juveniles for a long period of time. They come out worse. For the vast majority, it is not empirically the best thing to do. So the question is 'What do we do?'"

    "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."

    John is 16 years old. He got caught tagging, putting graffiti on a building. He tried to run away and hit a police officer while resisting arrest. John is reading his letter of apology to the officer.

    "I still don't understand why I did it, but I do understand what a terrible choice it was to make in the moment. Hurting you was not my intention."

    Instead of a judge, there is a facilitated. John's parents are attending the conference with the police officer he attacked. They are sitting in a circle, and speaking directly to each other.

    Melissa Saavedra is an employee of Community Works, with her assistance, they agree on a restitution plan. John will perform 20 hours of community service and do work at home for his parents.

    "He's monitored very closely by myself with the support of mom and dad. We go through a plan and do right by the victim."

    John was given a second chance, He can return to school with no criminal record.

    Sujatha Baliga is the Restorative Justice director with the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, he says studies show that offenders going through restorative conferencing are less likely to commit a crime again in the future.

    Restorative justice is not well-known in the United States, but the system dates back hundreds of years, used by American Indian tribes and the aborigines of New Zealand. Mennonites in Ontario, Canada started the modern-day practice in the 1970s. The idea has since spread to other parts of the world.

    Ruth Morgan is the executive director of Community Works. He says the group will soon expand the program to work with the district attorney in nearby San Francisco.

    Restorative practices have already 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 that's the Education Report from VOA Learning English. I'm Christopher Cruise.