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Program to Keep Juveniles Out of Prison Could Expand

By Andrew Bowen
Logo for K P B S San Diego

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday is set to vote on expanding a restorative justice program to keep juvenile delinquents out of prison.

The National Conflict Resolution Center has been operating a pilot program in the City Heights neighborhood called Restorative Community Conferencing, under which mediators set up meetings between minors who have been arrested and the victims of their crimes. The youth can avoid criminal charges if they agree to a restitution program.

“The victim benefits because he or she has a chance to meet with the youth and have a sense of repairing the harm,” said Steven Dinken, president of the conflict resolution center. “And ideally the youth, having gone through the process and seen the victim and the impact that his or her behavior has had on the victim — it’s life changing, and it puts the youth on the right path.”

How Restorative Community Conferencing Works:

Video Credit: Brian Myers, Media Arts Center San Diego (2012)

The center is seeking $1 million in county funding spread over five years. Matching funds of $1 million would come from private sources. Dinken said the program reduces recidivism, saving the courts and law enforcement money.

“A juvenile can go through a meeting, come up with a plan with other community members, with the hope of then not ending up back in the system,” he said. “There’s tremendous cost savings with that.”

The pilot program in City Heights has so far seen 29 out of 30 youths complete their restitution plan. The additional funding would expand the pilot program to southeastern San Diego.

County Supervisor Greg Cox said cooperation by county officials, law enforcement and the National Conflict Resolution Center had reduced juvenile incarceration by 50 percent over the past five years.

“This program I think will build on those successes,” Cox said.


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