Tuesday, June 12, 2012

(MARIN CO) Grand jury: 'Prison is no deterrent from crime'

by Jason Walsh - PacificSun.com

The Marin County Civil Grand Jury is demanding justice--restorative justice, that is.

In a report released this week titled "Restorative Justice--Its Time Has Come in Marin County," the grand jury is calling upon the county criminal justice system and Marin school officials to implement "restorative" practices, which have a proven track record of lowering wrongdoer recidivism but, according to the grand jury, has been met with an under-whelming response from the Marin County sheriff's and district attorney's offices.

Theories about restorative justice have been gaining momentum in education and public safety circles for over a decade. In essence, the practice seeks to shift society's "punishment" response to wrongdoing toward one of repairing the harm on a more personal level between victim and perpetrator.

According to the grand jury, "retributive justice focuses on public vengeance, deterrence and punishment through an adversarial process, whether in a school principal's office or in a courtroom." Restorative justice, on the other hand, "emphasizes repairing the harm caused or revealed by wrongdoing or criminal behavior."

Restorative practices include face-to-face encounters between wrongdoer and victim, as well as the possibility of material and financial restoration, while forcing the offender to take responsibility for their negative impact on the victim and the community.

"In Marin County," the report states, "restorative justice principles are currently employed at several middle schools as an alternative to suspension and expulsion."

Del Mar Middle School in Tiburon and Davidson Middle School in San Rafael currently employ restorative programs and have seen a dramatic decrease in the number of suspension levied throughout the school year. The Marin County Youth Court and the Novato Blue Ribbon Coalition for Youth have also found success via the use of peer courts.

Despite what's been achieved in schools, continues the report, "restorative justice currently find only limited application in the County's Juvenile Hall and County Jail," though the grand jury notes efforts are currently underway to expand its use. "Although the District Attorney's Office provides mediation services and citation hearings for various civil and criminal disputes," says the grand jury, "(the DA's office) and the Sheriff's Department appear to be significantly less supportive of expanded use of restorative justice techniques."

The report suggests that opposition to restorative justice may stem from the view that the process is "soft on crime."

According to the report, more than 6.7 million American adults--3.1 percent of the adult population--is either behind bars, on probation or on parole. Sixty percent of offenders are arrested for nonviolent offenses. Meanwhile, California has one the country's highest recidivism rates--67 percent of those released in 2005 and 2006 returned to prison within three years (70 percent of those were due to parole violations rather than new offenses).

"These figures suggest that using prison as a deterrent doesn't work," the report says.

In its conclusion, the grand jury recommends that the Marin County Office of Education, local school districts, as well as the Marin County District Attorney, Sheriff and Public Defender initiate restorative justice programs—and the grand jury calls on the Board of Supervisors to fund the training and operations for such programs.

"The Jury believes that a realistic examination of the features and benefits of restorative justice indicate opportunities for broadening the use of the techniques in Marin County to achieve significant tax dollar savings, reduce the extent of recidivism and deter young offenders from becoming career criminals," concludes the jury. "Cost savings are an attractive goal but even more attractive is the opportunity to transform an offender into a responsible law-abiding member of his or her community."

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