“Why don't we resolve this case with restorative justice?” That question was first posed to me years ago when a public defender suggested restorative justice as a resolution to a case. I broached the subject to my supervisor and was promptly told "we don't do that." In hindsight, both myself and my supervisor should have asked "What exactly is restorative justice?"

Despite its frequent use by many members of the public safety and justice system communities, the term “restorative justice” lacks a definitive, widely agreed-upon definition. More often than not, it is used to convey a general set of principles designed to broaden the justice system's focus beyond just the crime committed and punishment of the convicted, to include the community, the victims, restitution and rehabilitation.

As a Marin County Deputy District Attorney with 28 years of experience handling thousands of cases and over one hundred jury trials, I want to share my insights about restorative justice in action and how Marin County puts restorative justice into practice.

I have seen a shift in attitude towards restorative justice throughout my career. The initial leaders of restorative justice in Marin were Probation Chief Mike Daly and Cindy Ayala, the program Coordinator. Cindy has extensive experience in teaching restorative justice practices and came to Marin from Canada to start Marin County's Adult Restorative Justice program. This program involves all parties affected by a crime and offers them an opportunity to speak and be heard in a safe space, share their experiences, and obtain support and information.

Marin's Youth Court has been thriving since 2004 under the stewardship of Don Carney of the YMCA. Unlike our Adult Restorative Justice program, the Youth Court uses peer-to-peer restorative practices and accountability. Often the restorative practice resolution will be group volunteer work and serving as a juror in a future Youth Court. The Marin County Youth Court has a 95 percent completion rate, which results in removal of the event from the participant’s juvenile record. I highly encourage you to attend Youth Court on a Thursday afternoon at 4:30 on the Court Floor. Before the proceedings start, Don Carney gives an outstanding and realistic view of the dangers of the legalization and corporatization of marijuana and its effects on our youth. Later, when the cases are called, you will see and hear a true story about a young man or woman who acknowledges wrongdoing, answers questions from peers (their jury) and then is advised of the restorative plan that their jury of peers has devised. Since many of the cases involve the use of marijuana, Don Carney's words and warnings ring true.

Marin also currently offers a very successful 12-week program to our jail population called, “Thinking for a Change.” Thinking for a Change is a cognitive behavioral therapeutic curriculum designed to facilitate behavior change through addressing the underlying thought processes that precede behavior.

Another avenue that needs to be further explored is housing and treatment for those who go through the revolving door of justice, which would greatly reduce recidivism. We need to follow the lead of counties such as Sonoma that have provided wrap-around housing and treatment with great success. For example, the "Palms" project is one on which I would like to model a Marin County program.

My campaign for Marin County District Attorney focuses on expanding restorative justice programs for mentally ill, homeless, and drug addicted individuals. I also want to build on the success of Marin’s Youth Court by increasing community participation and by bringing law enforcement and neighborhood leaders to the courthouse so they can see for themselves how the court addresses the root causes of the school-to-prison pipeline, which disproportionally affects youth of color. I also hope to collaborate with the Court, the Public Defender, the Marin County Probation Department, and community partners to launch a Veterans Court in Marin County. This Court will provide services, outreach, and resources to our Veterans.

As I have campaigned for District Attorney, I am often told, "You are on a listening and learning tour as opposed to a campaign tour.”

One such occasion occurred last summer at a community fundraiser when I was introduced to a gentleman who was volunteering for the GRIP (Guiding Rage Into Power) program at San Quentin. This conversation resulted in a lunch meeting with Jacques Verduin, the Dutch psychologist who brought the GRIP program to San Quentin twenty years ago.

Over a long lunch, we discussed the in-prison restorative justice program in depth. At that time, there were 500 inmates on the wait list for the program. Not every inmate is suited for the program and vice-versa. It requires walking away from gang membership and one hundred percent commitment to the program. Participants are required to dig deep to acknowledge their crimes and what led to them. At one point, they prepare a timeline for the period preceding their crimes (many of which are violent assaults and murder). The reality check in the timeline is telling. I was told that in most cases, the actual crime was committed in a matter of seconds. That juxtaposition with the years of prison imposed for the act of violence, and the lifelong harm to the victims and their families, is often the moment of change for some inmates and results in a deeper understanding of the impact of their criminal activity. After the yearlong class, families of victims of the same or similar crimes come to the prison for the restorative portion of the program. At this event, the inmate apologizes for the harm suffered by the volunteer and their family.

Graduation from the GRIP program does not always translate to release from prison. One of the first questions I asked Jacques was "where do your graduates find employment?" He smiled and explained that the Governor was very supportive of the program and was employing graduates to teach the program in prison. The GRIP program has an amazingly high success rate (well above 90 percent).

I was so impressed with Jacques and his program that I asked one of his graduates to talk to a young man currently in custody in the hopes that he might connect with the defendant on a level where others had yet to succeed. I hope that we can continue this collaboration with GRIP graduates and to educate the community on the success of the program.

Did you know there was a restorative justice program in the Canal area of San Rafael? The Canal Welcome Center provides support to Latino residents interested in implementing restorative justice practices in their community. This program is using restorative justice to conduct interventions in the Canal and to support the Probation Department’s continued efforts in addressing disproportionate minority contact in Marin County. This brings new meaning to the term "keeping it local."

So, whether the program is on a countywide level, or a smaller, community level, restorative justice clearly has proven to be a successful approach that has diverted countless adults and juveniles from the justice system and restored faith in the system to victims and defendants. That is what I call a win-win outcome.