“It’s a lousy way to meet wonderful people,” said a sponsor of San Quentin’s Restorative Justice Program.
Restorative Justice is a non-traditional way of dealing with criminal offenders. It allows crime victims and offenders to engage in discussions.
Although the Restorative Justice program at San Quentin does not connect victims with the actual perpetrator of the crime committed against them, the dialogue gives offenders the opportunity to understand the damage they’ve done from the perspective of a victim.
Practitioners of Restorative Justice say crime is viewed as a violation of dignity and relationships. It seeks justice by identifying and repairing the needs of victims, the community, and offenders. Restorative Justice promotes responsibility in all areas of the criminal justice system.
San Quentin began holding Restorative Justice Symposiums in 2004.
This year’s symposium was held at the prison’s Catholic Chapel and was hosted by prisoner Troy Williams.
About 75 prisoners held round table discussions with about 50 community members to practice the tenets of restorative justice. “What we try to do at the round table is bring together elements of Restorative Justice,” said Williams.
‘I hope by coming to the symposiums …
I can learn something that will keep
me out of prison’
Jack Dison, a former schoolteacher, said restorative justice is not for everyone; sometimes traditional justice is appropriate. But he suggested there are ways the current system could operate more constructively: “One way is more inclusion of victims in the administration of justice.”
J. “Crash” Randall attended his third symposium. “I’m a two-striker, and I don’t want to catch my third strike,” he said. “I hope by coming to the symposiums and meeting people from the streets, I can learn something that will keep me out of prison.”
Of the 75 prisoners who attended the symposium, about 60 were lifers.
One of the goals of San Quentin’s Restorative Justices program is to include more determinate sentenced offenders, said the program’s founder, Christina Hotchkiss.
“Just compare the recidivism rate of determinate against indeterminate sentences,” Hotchkiss said. “The recidivism rate for lifers is about .04 percent, while seven out of 10 determinate sentenced offenders return to prison.”
A representative from Santa Rita Jail who facilitates restorative justice classes said when she first began classes, few men signed up. She challenged the inmates to “man-up” and be accountable for their actions.
“Can you really have accountability, if you don’t know who you are,” said another sponsor. “Healing and accountability are linked. It is a huge part of restorative justice. You can’t have accountability, if you don’t know yourself.”