Restorative justice is an approach that focuses on examining who is harmed when a crime has been committed and determining ways to repair the harm. Previous, historic approaches to responding to crime have not only resulted in mass incarceration but have also left a lack of accountability or support for survivors of crime. By contrast, restorative justice offers a way to promote community safety by focusing on accountability between a person who has caused harm and the people affected by the harm. It also aims to reduce recidivism by addressing the root causes of harm while upholding the dignity of those who have caused harm. This approach also seeks to reduce rather than exacerbate racial inequities.
SFDA has created a new Restorative Justice Unit to expand restorative justice programming. Our Make It Right program, which has operated in the juvenile unit for several years and includes transitional age youth (aged 18-25), has been effective in reducing recidivism and saving costs, while also holding people responsible for causing harm. Ultimately, the SFDA aims to provide restorative justice to any victim who wants it.
Research shows that survivors of crime are increasingly disappointed by their treatment within the criminal justice system. Many survivors favor accountability through restorative justice and other rehabilitative alternatives to prosecution and incarceration. When survivors of crime are involved in decisions about how we hold people who have caused harm accountable, restoration and repair can happen.
Addressing the Problem
Incarceration fails to address the real causes of violence. To the contrary: our prison system exacerbates violence by isolating people, separating families, and providing little to no rehabilitation. All too often, people equate punishment with accountability – but they are not the same. The result in the United States has been an historically unprecedented level incarceration and a lack of meaningful accountability. This doesn’t serve the needs of survivors, communities, or those who are imprisoned. That fails to make our communities more safe.
Our goal is to be part of the movement to institutionalize restorative justice not only within the San Francisco District Attorney’s office and criminal justice system, but also in schools, recreation centers and organizations. We plan to engage in proactive measures that involve restorative practices. This will help build community and raise awareness, and promote tools to help folks avoid contact with the criminal justice system in the first place.
Our approach to restorative justice is designed to (1) emphasize accountability to survivors of crime; (2) ensure equal justice under the law by addressing systemic racial inequities; (3) increase community safety by reducing recidivism and addressing root causes of harm; (4) uphold the dignity of folks who have caused harm; and (5) generate cost savings for re-investment into alternative programming that works.
San Francisco Restorative Justice Collaborative
To address issues involving harm based on ethnic or racial bias at a more systemic as well as grass-roots level, members of our office also meets with several community and government partners, including Community Youth Center, New Breath Foundation and others, in forming a San Francisco Restorative Justice Collaborative. The Collaborative aims to, among other things, repair the relationship between the Asian American and African American communities in San Francisco. Other goals of this collaboration are to engage in events and practices that encourage multi-racial consensus and global racial solidarity in the response to the inequity, harassment and discrimination that marginalized groups face in different forms.
This Restorative Justice Collaborative is designed to generate long term healing, rather than a band-aid response to high-profile incidents. Restorative justice offers an opportunity to stop cycles of harm that are often based on hurt people hurting other people where there has never been an opportunity for healing or repair.
We are evaluating trainings in restorative justice circle process and other basic principles to share with the community as well as within our office from nationally recognized leaders in the field, including Impact Justice, Common Justice, Peace Making Circle Processes and others.
We encourage members of our community to get involved in the movement to generate more effective approaches to keeping each other safe by learning about restorative justice practices and supporting community, educational and legal organizations that practice innovative approach.