California Restorative Justice

Joyce Tuhan, right, president of Victims of Violent Crimes of San Joaquin County, whose daughter was killed by a drunk driver in 1999, discusses a restorative justice program that she participates in, during a news conference in Sacramento, Calif., Monday, July 8, 2019. A measure, by state Sen. Steve Glazer, D-Orinda, and co-authored by Assemblywoman Susan Eggman, D-Stockton, created a pilot program where the victims of crimes can deal directly with their offenders. At left is San Joaquin County District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

SACRAMENTO— California officials are experimenting with a new diversion program for criminals that includes allowing victims to directly confront their offenders.

The budget that took effect July 1 includes $5 million to fund the program for five years in a county with a history of high crime, although it has been tried elsewhere and is more frequently used with juvenile offenders.

The California program is for offenders of any age. It will pair victims and offenders before they are convicted, and offenders who complete the program can avoid having a criminal record.

Proponents said Monday that what are known as restorative justice programs can help survivors heal, while helping offenders avoid committing new crimes in part because they don’t face the stigma of a criminal conviction.

“The goal of restorative justice is to give victims a chance to receive true justice in a much more personal way than our current system allows,” said Democratic state Sen. Steve Glazer of Orinda, who sought the money. “At the same time, the program gives offenders a chance to make amends directly to the victim.”

The state-funded program is targeting offenders who do not have extensive criminal records, but who have committed serious crimes that have a high potential for violence such as robbery, assault, home burglary or making criminal threats. Those charged with murder and sex crimes are not eligible.

San Joaquin County District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar said a more traditional county-run diversion program funded with a $1 million federal grant has graduated 76 offenders in the last 3½ years, only three of whom have since committed new crimes.

“Currently there are limited opportunities for victims to engage in the criminal justice system other than at the end, when they make a victim impact statement,” she said. “This is going to put power and tools and an opportunity to heal back in the hands of our victims.”

The offender, victim and members of community groups, along with law enforcement and defense attorneys, must agree on a plan that will satisfy the survivor and community while helping the criminal avoid commit future crimes.

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