In San Francisco, data points to a juvenile justice system that is heading in the right direction. From 1999 to 2016, we experienced a 76% decline in referrals of youths to the juvenile justice system, with 50% of that decline occurring in the last seven years. This includes an 85% decline in detentions, thus leading to a reduction in the juvenile hall average daily population from 119 to 45 young people. It also includes an 83% decline in kids on probation, and a 100% decline in kids sent to California Youth Authority/Department of Juvenile Justice.
But these reductions, while significant, leave us with hard challenges. As we have turned to community-based solutions for lower level offenses, the cases that have remained in our courtrooms are more serious. As the overall numbers have declined, racial and ethnic disparities in our juvenile justice system have become even more extreme. In 1999, African American young people comprised 49% of referrals and 52% of detentions – already a grossly disproportionate amount during a time when they comprised 13% of the city’s population. In 2016, they comprised an even more alarming 59% of referrals and 67% of detentions when only making up 6% of our population.
To help address these issues, the District Attorney has partnered with juvenile justice system stakeholders to launch Make it Right, a restorative justice approach for youths ages 13-17 facing prosecution for an array of felony charges in San Francisco.
Through Make it Right, eligible young people are given the option, before their cases are charged, to participate in “restorative community conferencing.” In this process, the youth come together with their victim and their supporters (including family/caregivers, youth services, schools, coaches, and others) in a community-based facilitated dialogue to develop an agreement for the young person to repair harm, address root causes, and make amends. This collective agreement identifies concrete actions the youth will take to address harm caused to the victim, the community, the youth’s family, and him/herself. With support from a community-based case manager, the young person has a six-month period to complete their agreement. If successful, the case is not prosecuted.
“Make it Right” is operated as a collaboration between the SFDA and two organizations which bring unique expertise to the program: Community Works West, which facilitates the conferences, and Huckleberry Youth Programs, which leverages its extensive knowledge of community-based resources to support the youths as they fulfill their agreements. The Restorative Justice Project at Impact Justice, a national innovation and research center, partnered with the SFDA to launch Make it Right and provides ongoing technical assistance to members of the collaboration. Make it Right’s operation is made possible through funding from the San Francisco Department of Children, Youth and Their Families and the Zellerbach Family Foundation.
In January 2022, the California Policy Lab (CPL) released a multi-year randomized control trial (RCT) evaluation of the MiR intervention. The evaluation, available here, found extremely strong evidence for the effectiveness of the program: young people who were referred to MiR were 44% less likely to be rearrested in 6 months and 32% less likely to be rearrested in 12 months than youth who were prosecuted. Findings were even stronger for young people who completed MiR: a year later, these young people were 66% less likely to be rearrested than young people who faced traditional prosecution.