Alameda County pioneers restorative justice for youth
Jun 17, 2009
"As far as the circle goes, I'd love to do it forever," Green said, "but I know people have lives." There is general agreement that Green has turned his life around and learned to make better choices. "We don't have as many issues, and Dante has been getting better and better at processing issues," Scott said. "The key is, you give a person a fish and they eat for a day. Dante has learned to fish for himself."
From Annette Fuentes' article in New America Media: BERKELEY. Members of the circle arrived one by one on a recent Friday evening at the Berkeley home of Leavy Perkins. She is the great grandmother of Dante Green, and had raised the young man from infancy. Green, 18, was the reason they’d converged, and he greeted them with a smile and warm hug before the members took seats around Perkins’ dining room table.
The Circle of Support and Accountability—COSA--that gathered at Perkins' home has been meeting weekly for the past six months, beginning when Green was a juvenile offender locked up in Camp Sweeney, a juvenile detention facility. It offers him guidance and direction and demands honesty and commitment in return, as Green creates a new, healthier life for himself. This spring, he completed a year at Berkeley College with a 3.75 grade point average and aspirations to transfer to UC Berkeley.
His early years were less promising. Green’s run-ins with the juvenile justice system began when he was 14 and stole a bicycle. Then he stole a car and a laptop computer. He went truant at school and was in and out of court, missing dates and pushing the envelope with the system. Finally, he landed in detention for more than a year.
But Alameda's juvenile justice system was piloting a new alternative to treating youthful offenders and Green would be the first candidate. At Christmas time 2008, he was given a chance to make amends for his crimes in a very different way. And he took it.
Behind the COSA and the Alameda courts' decision to adopt an alternative sentencing model was Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth (RJOY), a nonprofit begun in 2005 by attorney Fania Davis, now its executive director. RJOY's philosophy-and Davis'--is based on the principles of restorative practices, which focus on the harm to victims and the wider community and holds the offender accountable for their actions, which means restitution and making right what was wronged. Restorative justice addresses the needs of victims and offenders that are usually neglected in the criminal justice system, and in so doing, aims to reduce recidivism, strengthen communities and decrease costs of the current system.