The Fresno Pacific University Center for Peacemaking has been selected for a “Champion of Justice” award by Central California Legal Services (CCLS).

The center will be honored with the Robert M. George Equal Justice Award, in large part for its work in restorative justice. The award is named for a former chief justice of the California Supreme Court and, according to the CCLS website: "is the highest award given by CCLS to honor an individual, organization or project that exemplifies Justice George's commitment to a fair and accessible system of justice."

The Children’s Movement of Fresno nominated the center for the award, to be presented at a CCLS event October 4, 2018. More at centralcallegal.org/champions-of-justice/

Fresno has long been a leader in restorative justice across the nation and around the world as an alternative to a harsh but largely ineffective focus on punishment rather than offender rehabilitation and community healing, according to the nomination. “Restorative justice is not a program. Rather it represents a philosophical shift—a new way of thinking and acting that provides an alternative to punitive justice and discipline.”

The center’s juvenile restorative justice program, Community Justice Conferencing (CJC) brings together offenders, their family and victims in a voluntary, supervised process to repair harm through agreements that restore equity between victims and offenders as much as possible. Offenders are held accountable for their actions while being helped to learn from their mistakes, make restitution to victims and avoid reoffending. “This is far from a permissive approach. Instead it is an empowering approach,” according to the nomination.

Reasons for the nomination included:

  • In August 1995, the United Nations Non-Governmental Organization Working Party on Restorative Justice adopted a set of principles written by then center co-director Ron Claassen, D.Min., as the foundation for its work in preparing for an introduction of restorative justice at the International Crime Congress in 2000.
  • Also in 2000, the center and more than 20 leaders of Fresno County’s governmental agencies and organizations developed “Restorative Justice: A Framework for Fresno” which laid the groundwork for the Victim Offender Reconciliation Program (VORP) and began the work of implementing restorative justice in communities, schools and the criminal justice system.
  • In 2009, VORP and the center, with other community leaders, launched Community Justice Conferencing (CJC). Under the system juvenile justice authorities assign substantial sentencing authority to the community in a process administered by the center with advising by VORP and oversight by the courts. An evaluation by Mary Louise Frampton, now a law professor at UC Davis and then at UC Berkeley, released in August 2016 showed the center’s CJC restorative justice efforts:
    • Reduce crime
    • Increase restitution to victims
    • Save taxpayer dollars

The center does valuable work helping youth and adults in the criminal justice system find their way back into the community, according to The Children’s Movement. “At the same time, the Center is working to transform the public discourse about crime from an over-reliance on harsh punishment and imprisonment to institutionalizing peaceful approaches to resolving harm done by one person to another and promoting community healing.”

CCLS is a private, not-for-profit, public interest law firm providing free civil legal assistance to low-income individuals, families, organizations and communities in Fresno, Madera, Mariposa, Kings, Tulare, Tuolumne and other counties. The group has offices in Fresno, Merced and Visalia.

PHOTO--Center for Peacemaking team (from left): John Swenning, program director; Kim Gragston, reentry coordinator; Sheri Wiedenhoefer, center director; Amy Gavroian, CJC schools coordinator; Seya Lumeya, CJC court coordinator; Grace Spencer, CJC court mediator; Rachelle Schiller, case manager; Michael Carmona, community coordinator. Not pictured: Kristy Evans, M.A., center administrator; Peter Smith, Ph.D., associate professor, program director of peacemaking and conflict studies; Larry Dunn, Ph.D., associate professor of peacemaking and conflict studies.