West Sac Looks to Implement Neighborhood Court Program Like Davis

neighborhood-courtby Antoinnette Borbon

A meeting was held in West Sacramento last night for the new Neighborhood Court program established by DA Jeff Reisig. The program was started as a process to help first time offenders with misdemeanors and/or infractions and to have an opportunity to resolve the matters without taking it to court and ending up with a criminal record.

First to speak was Lisa Rea from the National Organization for Restorative Justice. Ms. Rea explained several programs in which she, herself, has taken part or started, in various states.

She explained to the public that offenders and victims benefit greatly from this type of justice. She said it is Restorative Justice that works. Ms. Rea said the program allows the victim to face his/her offender and explain what the offense meant to them. In turn, the offender has the opportunity to apologize and perhaps explain why they committed the offense.

Ms. Rea said, “There is healing that takes place and eventually forgiveness and this process is not easy.” Other punishments are determined by a panel and facilitators who come up with a positive way of retribution. But most of her work, however successful, has been in the prison system, unlike the Neighborhood Court Program established by our DA.

In the explanation of the Neighborhood Court Program, Chris Bulkeley, a Deputy District Attorney, defined what it entails. He said if a crime of vandalism occurs by a young person, they receive a citation and are then asked if they would like to participate in the program instead of a lengthy court process, winding up with a criminal history. He stated most people of the first time offenders choose the program, but some who do not feel they are guilty and will choose to take the case to court.

Mr. Bulkeley said if they meet the eligibility requirements, like the crime being a misdemeanor and first time offender, then they begin the steps. The offender meets with a panelist from the court program, along with a facilitator who discusses what should be done to restore the situation. Both offender and victim get the opportunity to discuss their feelings and talk about punishment. Debts are resolved in a manner in which the offender is able to pay, if the offense has monetary value.

Once the punishment is agreed on by all parties and is completed by the offender, then the case is closed out.  The offender has no criminal record on file.

If it pertains to vandalism, it could mean cleaning up and paying for what they destroyed and apologizing to the business owner and/or the victim.

Rev. Bill Wong, from a congregation in Davis, said he had an incident where a young college kid had broken a window in the church building. He said when given the option of utilizing the program, he accepted. What made the process a success was that the young man had the chance to hear how it had hurt the sanctity of a place many homeless people use as a safe haven to rest. Bill said the experience of bringing both the perpetrator and victims together to face one another gave each one the chance to listen to how the incident made the victims feel.

Deputy DA Chris Bulkeley talked about his own personal feelings after being mugged several years earlier. He said the mugging made him feel personally defenseless because the men were much larger than him. He stated in the neighborhood court program, you have the chance to talk about those feelings to the offender and it resolves some of the harm done.

Ms. Rea is the President of “Restorative Justice International,” and explained that this type of restoring has already been going on for a while and it works. She said it is not an easy way out, as others may think or say, but a more difficult thing to admit you are wrong/guilty and make amends to your victim, be it the community or another individual.

Jeff Reisig was asked by a member of the audience if the county has seen any monetary savings working this program, for our county. Mr. Reisig stated, “no, not yet.” But the county is hopeful it will eventually save a lot of time and money.

Chris Bulkeley said so far, since the program has begun, there have been about 154 cases resolved successfully.

The Neighborhood Court Program was modeled after a program out of San Francisco, Mr. Bulkeley explained. But we also know that one of the most successful programs first started utilizing the “Restorative Justice” theme was implemented in 2010 by David Gottlieb, a Fresno County judge, for youth offenders only, and was another proven success.

But the big difference is the court program cases never go before a judge. All cases are handled among the panelists, facilitators, offender and victims. However, all of the known programs that have used such a system have a proven success rate.

Lisa Rea said these programs are recognized by our legislature and growing fast across the nation.

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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    1. Cathy Aubill

      Thanks, Robb. I was trying to fact-check on the first one, with no success; there is a Rev. Bill Wong, however, pastor at the Lutheran church on Russell…

  1. Frankly

    A meeting was held in West Sacramento last night for the new Neighborhood Court program established by DA Jeff Reisig. The program was started as a process to help first time offenders with misdemeanors and/or infractions and to have an opportunity to resolve the matters without taking it to court and ending up with a criminal record.

    Started by Jeff Reisig? You mean that DA that the VG keeps trying take down?

  2. Grassroots

    I was part of the meeting held in West Sacramento Thursday night and I also sit on the Multi-Cultural Community Council. Expanding the highways of multi-cultural understanding, the Multi- Cultural Community Council (MCCC) a network composed of 16 ethnically diverse members presented its 5th forum. The focus was “Restorative Justice and Neighborhood Courts”. Multi-Cultural Community Council’s perspective on justice is that JUSTICE is an intersection through which all communities pass.

    Restorative Justice is a non-punitive process that insures judicial equity for all people and builds relationships that deepen the sense of community and inclusion between its multi-cultural citizens whether they are victims, offenders or community members. For a county riddled by racism with pipelines to prison for people of color, restorative justice offers the possibility for judicial equity, especially for our young people. Borrowing data from other communities, we know that while restorative justice builds community, it reduces criminal recidivism, saves the community thousands of dollars and keeps individuals and families together. This process is about prevention and reduced recidivism. It is about a victim-offender dialogue that builds relationships and about relationships that repair the harm done by the crime. It is about the power of humane dialogue that is stronger, more piercing than a bullet, and more transforming than a life sentence.

    My story. First you should know that I trained for about 30 years under the father of Humanistic Psychology, Carl Rogers Ph.D. I have highly developed empathy skills. When my boys were quite young a man entered our house after midnight. When he walked across the entry to my bedroom I awoke. He was tying a knot in my son’s turtle neck shirt. I needed to protect my children. What should I do? It would take the police forever if I could successfully call them. Surely, he would try to stop me. There were no weapons and no man in the house. My only protection was my ability to accept and empathize with others. I simply got of bed softly and at very close range I asked him if he wanted a cup of coffee? He said no. I asked if he objected to me having a cup of coffee? He said no. Then I smiled and asked if I knew him? He said no. I asked him then why are you here? He said he guessed he was in the wrong house. With my genuine smile, I shook my head in agreement. He ran out the backdoor. I went to the front door and asked him to not come back. I climbed back in my bed and went to sleep.

    It is this level of fearlessness when in human dialogue that restorative justice harnesses compassion to repair the harms done by crime. In restorative justice, you do not go there by your self but with a facilitator, a willing offender and several community members. At some point in the dialogue you become a team and together, the offender, the victim and the community members create activities, simple or as complex as needed, to restore each to a higher level of functioning then before the crime.

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