San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon, a lead- er in restorative justice and social reform, has challenged the status quo again.
At the 14th annual Harry Frank Guggenheim Symposium at John Jay College in New York, the ex-police chief turned prosecutor, described the incarceration of people in both our county jails and state prisons as an entry into the “universities of crime.”
“We are more violent, collectively, than the people we’re afraid of,” said Gascon. “We get angry at people and throw them in jail and forget about them.”
Gascon reflected on his creation of Neighborhood Courts in 2012. The precedent-setting community justice system initiated the training of neighboring volunteers to hear non-violent misdemeanor cases.
This allowed the social web of a community to heal by empowering the Neighborhood Courts to engage with both the low-level offender and their victims to expedite a more thorough healing process for all involved.
After hearing the legal matters of a case, the representatives of the Neighborhood Courts issue “directives” to offenders about making amends. According to Megan Hadley of The Crime Report, the sanctions in the Neighborhood Courts included writing an apology letter, fixing damages caused and paying for damages.
Hadley also said, the district attorney believes victims are satisfied because they get to take part in the restorative process.
Not everyone agrees with the more holistic approach to punishment that Gascon envisioned when he created the Neighborhood Courts in 2012.
In fact, when he ran for re-election in 2014, police unions, whose income and retirements hinge on prosecution and incarceration, attempted to create political discord by objecting through local radio stations and social media.
The Crime Report revealed during Gascon’s re- election bid that the unions said, “Don’t expect the DA to do anything about victims of crime.”
Later, Gascon reflected on his department’s expungement of 9,000 marijuana cases once cannabis became legal in California. The first legal reversal of its kind in the nation, Gascon remembered, “I was criticized at first, but then people followed.”
Gascon defined the “universities of crime” approach when he spoke at the symposium, saying the public perception is that offenders “are not part of the rest of us” thus creating an “us against them” that puts them in the corner and “isolates them to the point of no return.”
Gascon concluded his speech by stating, “If crime is down, and incarceration is no longer doing it, why should we incarcerate people on the levels we do? Why?”