Monday, Jul. 22, 2019

Vibrant Citizen Engagement: Sonoma County (CA) Embraces Restorative Practices Which Save Money & Improve Lives

By Nancy Merritt · May 12, 2016

Note:  We are proud of Sonoma County (CA), its citizen engagement groups and the CA Peace Alliance/ Campaign for a U.S. Department of Peacebuilding (DoP) for working to make Restoratice Practices/ Restorative Resources a way of life in the community.  Read more in this article by Maggi Koren.  - Nancy Merritt, CA Peace Alliance/ DoP Campaign.

"We are social animals dependent for better on worse on lives beyond ourselves. Restorative Justice agrees that society is interconnected which reframes crime as the cause and effect of damaged relationships and disconnection from a sense of belonging. If this is true, then the proper response to crime, the violation of people, and interpersonal relationships, is the obligation to make things as right as possible, which includes the rehabilitation of the offender.”  -  Jonathan McRay - Peacebuilder - Kosmos Journal

Have you heard the great news? 

In April 2016 the nonprofit organization, Restorative Resources, received $200,000 from the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors for Restorative Practice Initiatives.  $100,000 will be used for the Sonoma County Office of Education to lead county wide restorative practices, and the other $100,000 will be concentrated on restorative dialogue circles for 7th and 8th grade students.

The Board of Supervisors (BOS) had previously awarded Restorative Resources with a Gold Resolution for their successful work implementing pilot programs in two Santa Rosa schools with suspension and expulsion diversion programs, circle work, a successful accountability program, and the education of facilitators to partner with schools, the probation office and the courts to help nonviolent prisoners return successfully to their communities.

Restorative Resources received the award because in the year 2013-14 the reduction of expulsions and suspensions added up to a district wide savings of $500,000 in Average Daily Attendance (ADA) money. Savings from fewer suspensions the same year was almost $400,000 and savings from fewer expulsions amounted to almost $214,000.  This is brilliant when you consider the lives that were transformed - students and families alike. The schools also experienced a decrease in bullying and truancy - putting a dent in the 'school to prison pipeline.' 

Susan Kinder, the Executive Director of Restorative Resources, often shared the need for funds for this worthy cause since the Federal Title 2 Grant money they received in 2012 for these school programs, was used up, so this award was a God send.

This did not happen in a vacuum! It resulted from many years of vibrant caring citizen engagement.

As far as I can tell, Restorative Resources has been active in Sonoma County since the beginning of this century.  Judges Arnold Rosenberg and Mark Tansil, in conjunction with probation officers, redirected young offenders to this nonprofit organization headed at that time by Jessalyn Nash, a Professor of Sociology at Sonoma State University (SSU).  Instead of being locked up in Juvenile Hall or prisons, the young offenders received accountability education which included circle work with their victims.

In 2007-2008, Restorative Resources worked with Claudia Rosatti, Superintendent of Schools in Cloverdale, where racial conflicts had been escalating. The successful program facilitating family conferences and restorative circles during school recess abruptly ended due to the economic downturn when funds were no longer available.

In 2011 the Sonoma County League of Women Voters conducted an in depth study of Restorative Justice and was so impressed that the group splashed its findings in all our local media outlets, saying, "Restorative Justice is a paradigm of justice which promotes healing and restoration of the victim, the offender and the community."  During the same period the BOS encouraged local business leaders to invest in crime reduction through the Upstream Investment Initiative which partnered with the Sonoma County Health Department for crisis intervention and prevention - which in turn meant stepping up the county's psychiatric needs.

The North Bay Organizing Project began to make waves in support and the local Department of Peacebuilding (DoP) group organized a coalition of nonprofit peace organizations to help celebrate the Season for Nonviolence (SNV) with annual kick off events to help promote programs offered by such groups as Restorative Resources, Alternatives to Violence Project, the Metta Center for Nonviolence, Recourse Mediation, the Peace and Justice Center and the UNA of Sonoma County.  The Coalition promoted the work through proclamations issued by 7 Sonoma County cities in 2011, including Cloverdale, Cotati, Healdsburg, Petaluma, Santa Rosa, Sebastopol and Sonoma.

In 2012 the local DOP members connected with the Issues and Legislative Committee of the Sonoma County Democratic Central Committee (SCDCC) to write and pass resolutions of support which went out to City Mayors, City Council Members and the BOS. Over the next six years many programs were promoted through annual advertising of the SNV kick off events followed by the 64-day season during which time nonviolent tools and practices, peaceful conflict resolution, NVC, plus circle training and facilitating workshops were offered.

In 2013 the most important thing the coalition did was to invite Sonoma County Supervisor Mike McGuire to moderate the 3rd annual SNV kick off event, "Walking the Talk: A Forum on Effective Solutions for Violence Prevention in Sonoma County." The event was centered on proactive local initiatives inside and outside local government - even collaboration, to promote the principals of nonviolence in local schools, the legal system and the general community. The panel included a Baptist Minister, a police sergeant from the Mayors Gang Task Force, a school superintendent, Chief Ochs from the Probation Office, Susan Kinder, Executive Director of Restorative Resources and a representative from Friends Outside, a nonprofit that helps prisoners and their families with their social economic needs, including Non Violent Communications (NVC) and mediation services.

Supervisors Mike McGuire and Shirlee Zane were so moved by the 2013 forum that the following year they organized the Restorative Justice Summit with Susan Kinder. It was a successful conscious raising event attended by over 100 influential county leaders and citizens which really helped to put RJ on the map in our county.

In 2015 funding remained a challenge so the SNV Coalition, headed by the local Department of Peacebuilding Campaign, connected again with the SCDCC to work on another resolution to help expand RJ Practices in all Sonoma County schools and encourage city mayors, council members, the BOS and anyone running for office, to find a way to include the implementation of the program when they orchestrated their budgets for the following 2 years. It was felt that after 2 years the program would pay for itself.

Guess what? It was probably going to happen anyway but the City of Santa Rosa found $16,000 from Measure "O" for the school program in Santa Rosa, and the Sonoma County BOS acquired funding from the CA Board of State and Community Corrections, with local recommendations from the Local Law Enforcement Taskforce (CALLE).

To date the Upstream Investment Initiative currently works very closely with many similar Sonoma County nonprofit organizations. The Mayors Gang Force has evolved from the punitive reactive 'zero tolerance' stance, to a more proactive and diverse collaborative effort with a new title, the Santa Rosa Prevention Partnership, which includes citizens from all walks of life instead of just the legal system.

Also Stephen Gale, former Chair of the SCDCC, who was very helpful over the last decade  with several Department of Peace Resolutions including Representative Barbara Lee's Department of Peacebuilding Act of 2015 - HR 1111. He was also especially supportive of the SNV Coalition of Sonoma County, and Restorative Practices from the outset. Today Stephen works in Congressman Mike Thompson's District Office in Santa Rosa.

Today the obvious need is for RJ to be instituted and funded statewide, as it is in the State of Colorado. Maybe, now is the time to require a mandate for RJ education as part of the curriculum in teacher training schools and police academies in California.

Maggi Koren - Volunteers for the CA Department of Peacebuilding Campaign and the Season for Nonviolence Coalition of Sonoma County.  More information can be found at http://www.restorativeresources.org

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