— Alicia Virani, J.D.,Equal Justice Works Fellow, Restorative Justice Specialist, The California Conference for Equality and Justice
— Denise Curtis, Program Manager, Restorative Community Conferencing, Community Works West
— Edgar Dormitorio, Assistant Dean of Students & Director of Student Conduct, UC Irvine
— Moderator, Danielle Nava, CAHRO Board Member and Director of Programs, The California Conference for Equality and Justice
Virani: Nearly 800,000 students suspended in California. Reasons: tough school policies, breakdowns of communities on school campuses. Restorative justice, not only see what is wrong and what is right. We work to build strong communities in schools. People sitting down and talking to each other in a circle. These circles occur throughout the day and involve the entire school community. Example of success at schools, instead of having fights, the students ask for a circle to resolve their differences. Restorative justices invited parents into the room. Encouraging schools to change their discipline policy. Don’t suspend young people, let’s work in the problem. Model school codes to include restorative justice as a means to deal with disciplinary problems. Restorative justice gives everyone involved in the conflict a say and stake in the resolution. Focusing on changing the campus climate. California Conference has RJ program at two high schools, one in Long Beach and one in L.A.
Dormitorio: Know that even is student was placed on probation, or expelled, the issues was never truly resolved. restorative justice is an opportunity to get together and address the harm. Trained 19 facilitators across the campus. Implemented the process a year and half a go. This came from the top down. Students were concerned about the campus climate in light of recent history of accusations of intolerance, micro aggressions, racial tensions. The campus has been identifying the harm and repairing that harm.
Curtis: The paradigm shift is in thinking about safety. which means that people of color have to be locked up. When the whole community takes responsibility for that safety is when safety comes about.
How her programs works: pre-adjudication; reverse Miranda; voluntary; meet victim; and community.
Has a memorandum of understanding with DA that allows the process. After we have a case, we talk to the youth and his family and inform then that this is an alternative justice program. We tell the family that this is repairing the harm and give them a choice about whether they want to take part. We also agree that what you say cannot be used to harm you. This is important to the victims, who have a lot of questions that folks don’t usually get the answers to. With the process, you can ask the questions and get the answers because there is no downside to telling the truth. Youth gets to meet the victim, it wasn’t just the computer got stolen, but the pictures of the family stored on the computer. A humanity check for the youth. Law enforcement is always in the conference as well as was a community member who chose a different path in their lives and could talk to the youth at their level.
A lot of talk about youth, but what is the role of adults?
Curtis: A lot of patience on behalf of law enforcement and other adults. And pondering the question of who will be coming back into the community. Community-based organizations also provide a role to help the youth redefine their roles in the community.
Dormitorio: We see restorative justice real maximizes the opportunity to resolve issues as well as ways to educate students.
Virani: One of the first things we do in schools is to work with administration and teachers. They can work out problems and issues with their peers. It’s really about using restorative justice to resolve all sorts of conflicts. Is applicable in community-based organizations as well.
Question: Are there instances where RJ does not work?
Dormitorio: We do have criteria, first that the parties consider this as a possibility. We also look at issues of violence and sexual assault.
Question: Accountability, how do you get society to buy in?
Virani: The solution is driven by the people in the process, not society. It is what the people in the process needs. It’s a six month process.
Curtis: There are people who do not want to take part. Also, we make people stretch, they are not going to do what they were doing before. If they don’t, they go back to the referral source. They to have to make it right. If you are not clear that you have harmed someone, our process has ended.
Dormitorio: If the agreements are not fulfilled, then this will be handled a different way.