By David M. Greenwald
Woodland, CA – Since its founding it has become one of the flagship programs of the Yolo County DA’s office, the program it hangs its “progressive” hat on, and what it has used to market itself to Yolo County and beyond, but on Wednesday, the Yolo County District Attorney announced it was changing its name from Neighborhood Court to Yolo Restorative Justice Partnership.
The Yolo County DA’s office claims that since 2013, it “has diverted over two thousand increasingly serious criminal cases through RJP.”
Critics argue that while it is true the DA’s office has diverted more serious cases recently, for much of its history, it largely took cases that would never have entered the court system in other jurisdictions and put people through Neighborhood Court.
In RJP, “cases are resolved using a facilitated conference model which utilizes the principles of restorative justice to encourage accountability and involve the people and communities most impacted by crimes in their resolution.”
Yolo’s RJP, the DA’s office claims, “is aided by the engagement and support of the Yolo County Public Defender’s office, Health and Human Services Agency, Probation, local law enforcement agencies, community volunteers, restorative justice practitioners with the Yolo Conflict Resolution Center, and various other community-based organizations.”
The DA writes, they have “set a goal of diverting 10% of filed felonies by 2022. While other standard diversion options may be available, programs within RJP will specifically adhere to the tenets of restorative justice.”
The name change reflects what DA Jeff Reisig claims to be “yet another progressive development.”
Reisig in a press release stated, “As the District Attorney in Yolo County, I serve a constituency that has made it clear that they want to see criminal justice that protects our communities and offers resolutions, rather than only punishing those who commit crimes.”
He added, “The creation of Neighborhood Court was a bold step on a path towards innovative and community-based approaches to handling criminal offenses. The name Restorative Justice Partnership reflects how we have evolved and the ways in which we are continuing to move forward to embrace transparency, equity, and restoration.”
The DA’s office writes: “As the benefits of the RJP model have become more evident and the reach of the program has grown, YCDA has developed a statewide reputation as a leader in restorative justice and innovative measures. At the same time, the push to differentiate more clearly between the traditional adversarial “Court” process and the restorative process utilized by RJP has increased.”
YCDA Program Coordinator, Nicole Kirkaldy, said: “For Neighborhood Court, we find ourselves constantly emphasizing the idea that this is in fact not court. There are no attorneys in our conferences and the volunteers are not a jury. Participants are not there to prove their case.
“This is meant to be a process to address the needs of those most impacted by criminal acts through honesty and accountability. By moving away from the name “Neighborhood Court” we are emphasizing how RJP is much different than the “court” process and we are moving in a more accurate direction. We are very excited for this next phase in our progression.”
Kara Hunter, Executive Director of the Yolo Conflict Resolution Center (YCRC) added, “YCRC has been a significant partner in the YCDA’s restorative justice efforts since the beginning in 2013. By providing hundreds of hours of restorative justice training to both staff and volunteers, YCRC continues to aim to ensure that the intention by which the YCDA provides restorative justice services, is truly restorative and not simply diversion.”
She said, “YCRC is pleased with the name change, as it acknowledges that the YCDA is not doing this work alone, and that these efforts are truly a partnership not only with YCRC but with the community.”
Joseph Gocke, a Supervising Deputy Public Defender in Yolo County, added, “Yolo Restorative Justice Partnership puts right out in front the positive, collaborative approach of the restorative justice model, a model that can be less stressful and more healing to defendants and victims than the traditional adversarial process.”