A partnership including the Fresno Pacific University Center for Peacemaking & Conflict Studies is cutting juvenile crime, saving money and increasing understanding in Fresno County.
“The CJC program was found to be a highly successful and cost effective program that significantly reduced recidivism, put more money into the hands of victims, and met the needs of victims as well as young people and their families,” concluded an evaluation of the Community Justice Conferencing (CJC) program by the Thelton E. Henderson Center for Social Justice at the UC Berkeley School of Law. The report, funded by the California Endowment, was released August 24, 2016, at a news conference on the Fresno County Juvenile Justice Campus.
Since the program began in 2008, CJC has worked with more than 1,500 first-time juvenile offenders who commit misdemeanors. CJC is a collaboration between CPACS and the county juvenile court, probation department and district attorney’s and public defender’s offices.
“CJC helps the university connect with and improve the community by fostering the FPU values of promoting social justice and service to others in reconciliation and peacemaking,” said Seya Lumeya, Community Justice Conferencing program coordinator.
CJC focuses on the responsibility of young offenders to repair the damage they caused so victims are satisfied, the young people become more responsible and productive and the community is safer. When the court refers a case, CJC goes through a nine-10-week process that includes face-to-face meetings with and between victims, offenders and families. Victims confront offenders, who are encouraged to take responsibility for their actions. Offenders and victims work out a restitution plan to compensate victims for their loss.
“The last thing we want to see in court are the same faces,” Fresno County Superior Court Presiding Judge Kimberly Gaab said at the presentation. “As juveniles amass a record it makes it harder and harder for them to become productive citizens.”
CJC was evaluated in four areas:
Recidivism: the frequency at which young offenders whose cases were resolved through CJC committed more crimes compared to offenders whose cases were resolved solely by the court.
Restitution: whether victims in CJC cases were compensated at a higher, lower or similar rate as victims whose cases went only through the court.
Cost-benefit analysis: which system cost the county—and its taxpayers—more: CJC or the court system alone?
Reaction of participants: assessing the program through the eyes of participating victims, offenders and the offenders’ parents/guardians.
Results were encouraging.
In cases handled by CJC, 6 percent of the young people reoffended after three months and 2 percent after one year. The recidivism rate for cases handled solely through the court was 26 percent after three months and 15 percent after one year.
In cases handled by CJC, 74 percent of restitution ordered by the courts was collected. In cases that went through the courts only, 6 percent of the ordered restitution was collected.
Cases involving CJC cost $1,222 each. Those non-CJC cases that were resolved before trial and where the offender was placed on probation cost $9,537 apiece. In cases that went to trial and the offender was incarcerated for one year, costs were $103,205 each.
For the study, 60 participants—20 victims, 20 offenders and 20 parents/grandparents/guardians—were randomly selected and interviewed. Offenders represented an equal number of girls and boys and a range of economic circumstances, ages, races and ethnicities. Interviewees included businesspeople, city employees and school officials. Interviewees included adults and young people as well as both acquaintances of the offenders and people they did not know. Crimes included assault and battery, theft, bringing a knife to school, destruction of property, fighting and leaving the scene of an accident. In a few cases injuries were fairly substantial.
Victims reported feeling greater safety and a sense of closure, the report stated. “They appreciated the opportunity to tell the offenders how they were hurt by them and to witness the youngsters’ apologies.” Anger and skepticism were replaced by empathy. “They related their observations that the young people were taking responsibility for their misbehavior and how emotional and difficult the experience was for the youngsters. Although they were victimized, many were very sensitive to the challenges facing young people.”
Most family/guardians reported their young persons’ participation in CJC improved their behavior and attitudes and enhanced communication within the family, according to the report. “Some noted their youngsters used what they learned from CJC to become leaders rather than followers. They also expressed appreciation for CJC’s focus on ‘bad choices’ rather than ‘bad kids.’”
The report stated all offenders reached agreements with victims and all but one completed those agreements. “They commented that their participation in CJC was difficult and embarrassing but that it had changed their perspectives and, for some, their lives. Many reported their involvement in the program encouraged them to leave friends who were bad influences, to perform better in school, to foster good relationships, and to become more responsible people.”
A victim and offender each spoke at the public presentation. “Meeting the offender face-to-face changed everything. Stereotypes were replaced by truth,” said Gayle Farrel. She and husband Doug have built a relationship with offender Dallas Esquivel through CJC. “The family meeting changed my life,” said Esquivel, who now volunteers in the community and hopes to go into law enforcement after he finishes his education.