Berkeley Unified School District board member Judy Appel sat down with San Quentin News to brainstorm on solutions to criminal justice issues that she can take to Sacramento, if she wins an assembly seat this fall.
“I’m very concerned about our criminal justice system and the way we lock people up for really long times,” Appel said. “We put people away for so long without trusting people with a second chance.”
Following the footsteps of her mentor, retired State Senator Loni Hancock (D-Oakland), Appel said she believes in working with the people affected by a problem to come up with the solutions.
Appel came into the newsroom with Alden Feldon. Both are part of the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, which supports San Quentin News because they believe this newspaper provides public safety solutions. At the table was Editor-in-Chief Richard “Bonaru” Richardson, Senior Editor Juan Haines and Staff Writer Wayne Boatwright.
After hearing about how successful San Quentin State Prison has been with rehabilitative programming that transform lives, she asked, “Can programs work at other prisons?”
Haines replied, “Definitely. It’s a matter of getting buy-in from the yard and the administration.”
One of the news guys also suggested a way to stem gun violence — making it mandatory to teach the practice of restorative justice to kids in school. Appel already supports the idea and has worked with SEEDS, an organization that trains teachers in the use of restorative justice in the Berkeley School District.
“I believe there is healing in the process of forgiveness and making amends,” Appel said.
She said she discovered restorative justice while looking for ways to stop the school-to-prison pipeline.
“Restorative justice really resonates with how I feel we should be dealing with this,” Appel said. “Kids need to know somebody loves them.”
Then she asked about whether teaching restorative justice practices in neighborhoods where there is violence would work.
The response was that using mentors who have relatable experiences would get the kids to buy in.
Feldon, who had remained quiet until toward the end of the meeting added, “Most people think it’s a zero sum game. If people realized that everyone is a resource, everyone is a gold mine that we lose every time we lock someone up or suspend them from school – if we looked at each other as resources rather than competitors, then rehabilitation would be a no brainer.”
Appel responded, “I love the idea that everybody is a gold mine.”
Appel is running for the Assembly seat currently held by Tony Thurman of District 15, which covers the East Bay from North Oakland to Hercules, Richmond, Albany and El Cerrito.
“I’ve really been a social justice advocate for 25 years,” Appel said. “I feel it’s the right time to bring my skills, empathy and bold leadership to the Assembly.”
Appel said while taking care of an older sister with mental health issues, she saw her struggle and get kicked out of school. That instilled in her the desire to become an advocate.
The licensed attorney said she has fought for homeless people, been part of the Drug Policy Alliance, and worked on the founding board of the Ella Baker Center with Van Jones before joining the school board.
Now the Pittsburg native wants to help increase the chances of success for returning citizens by making it easier to get the necessary licenses to work certain jobs.
“I believe most of the inequalities in our culture are imbedded in structural racism,” Appel said. “That has led to people in power not letting certain groups of people succeed.”
Appel wants to make licensing permits discretionary instead of having a strict bar that keeps someone from getting a license because of an unrelated crime.
She’s also interested in ways to bring rehabilitated people home from prison faster.
“If you could get out sooner and bring the wealth of you out into the world, that’s a win, win,” Appel said.