Is the criminal justice system about protecting the innocent or punishing the guilty?
That’s the central question raised today in a special legislative briefing in the State Capitol sponsored by Assemblymember Shirley Weber (D-San Diego) and attended by legislators, criminal justice experts, crime victims and other stakeholders, including representatives of faith-based organizations and supporters of Restorative Justice.
Assemblymember Weber is the author of AB 2590, the Restorative Justice Act, a bill sponsored by the California Catholic Conference to increase the role of restorative justice programs within the correctional and judicial systems. The bill is sponsored by the California Catholic Conference (CCC), other faith groups, and the community organizing partners of the CCC.
“Justice and mercy go hand in hand, and when dispensed properly and in balance, the result is smart on crime,” said Ned Dolejsi, executive director of the California Catholic Conference. “But when they get out of balance, when mercy and rehabilitation give way to punishment and retribution, the result is the expensive and dysfunctional justice system we have today.”
“The problem is that our criminal justice system is focused almost exclusively on arresting, convicting and warehousing the perpetrator, with not enough thought given to victims or to overall public safety,” said Debbie McDermott, Restorative Justice coordinator for the California Catholic Conference. “To make matters worse, almost no thought is given to the fact that the overwhelming number of people arrested and convicted of a crime will go back to their communities within a few years, where they need to be reintegrated into society.
“Out of sight, out of mind is a bad strategy if the outcome you seek is a safer, less violent community,” explained McDermott.
The goal of Restorative Justice is to help victims and their families heal from the traumatic effects of violent crime and to break the cycle of crime by helping offenders rehabilitate and reintegrate with their families and communities.
This includes programs like the Community Justice Conference (CJC) established by the Fresno County Superior Court (http://www.courts.ca.gov/27588.htm). The CJC Program is a restorative justice project to help first-time juvenile offenders understand the consequences of their actions and make restoration for their delinquency. The result? Young people who have participated in CJC since 2009 are 3 to 4 times less likely to re-offend than their peers who did not go through the program.
It includes the Office of Violence Prevention in the City of Stockton (http://www.stocktongov.com/government/departments/manager/violprev.html) where Denise Manning and her team manage a community-based program to work with youth to prevent the kind of senseless violence that caused her to bury her then boyfriend on her 17th birthday.
Presenters at the legislative briefing included:
- The Hon. David Gottlieb (http://www.courts.ca.gov/27588.htm) - Fresno County Superior Court
- Mary Acosta, Restorative Justice Mediation Program (http://www.sdrjmp.org/) - Diocese of San Diego
- Jerry Elster, Healing Justice Coordinator - American Friends Service Committee (http://www.afsc.org/program/bay-area-healing-justice)
- Denise Manning, Community Engagement Coordinator - City of Stockton (http://www.stocktongov.com/government/departments/manager/violsprev.html)
- Paul McCold, PhD (https://restorativeworks.net/author/pmccold/) - Independent Criminologist
- Deacon Martin Ruiz, Restorative Justice Program - Diocese of Orange (http://www.rcbo.org/group/restore/)
- Rita Chairez, Healing Hearts/Restoring Hope - Los Angeles (http://www.hhrh-la.org/staff/)
- Sheri Wiedenhoefer, Circle of Support and Accountability - County of Fresno (http://cosa-fresno.org/)
- Bishop Cornelius Bowser, Charity Apostolic Church - San Diego Organizing Project (https://www.facebook.com/charityapostolic/)