Petty theft, reckless driving, vandalism – imagine if these wrongs committed by youth could be righted not by punitive sentencing but by rehabilitative counseling and education. In Santa Rosa, now, they can.
Earlier this month, the Santa Rosa Police Department implemented the .RJ Program for select juvenile cases in Santa Rosa. The .RJ Program is a law enforcement diversion program for Sonoma County youth, ages 12-18, and is offered in partnership with the local non-profit organization called Restorative Resources. .RJ (pronounced “Dot RJ”) stands for:
The .RJ Program is designed to provide “front and early” intervention to youth after law enforcement contact and before referral to the formal juvenile justice process. Restorative Resources strives to prevent gang violence and substance abuse through this low-level diversion program and address impulsive and reckless decision-making. Equally important, the .RJ Program will help victims, families, and our community heal from the harmful effects of crime. At the street or incident level, Law Enforcement Officers can identify and refer youth to this program who are deemed appropriate according to their agency’s criteria and policies. The .RJ program has the capacity to enroll up to seventy-seven youth in a 12-week program that is repeated throughout the year.
“As Chief, my key priority is reducing crime and keeping our community safe,” explains Santa Rosa Police Chief John Cregan. “We understand that teenagers make mistakes, and I believe it is important to divert juvenile offenders from the criminal justice system on minor offenses to a learning experience. Our youth must understand the consequences of their behavior as they prepare to face the realities of becoming an adult. I am committed to seeking alternative approaches to help victims receive closure, and youthful offenders make substantive changes in their lives. I believe the .RJ approach will help keep our youth from ever being introduced to the criminal justice system and provide an opportunity for positive transformation.”
How the program works:
- To participate in .RJ, the parent/guardian of the youthful offender AND the victim must consent to this process.
- Youth attend weekly 2-hour dialogue circles led by bilingual/bicultural circle facilitators where they will engage in reflective and authentic conversations about their specific incident, the decisions that led to it, their accountability for choices made, impacts caused to others, and actions needed to heal the resultant harm.
- Victims have an opportunity to share their experiences and attend a face-to-face meeting with the youth to share impacts and seek healing.
- Each referred youth attends an individually facilitated Restorative Conference specific to their incident. Conference participants include youth, impacted parties, family, and community members. Participants share their experience; harms impacts and resultant needs.
- Each Restorative Conference results in an individual Restorative Action Plan, with tasks the youth will complete to make amends.
- Youth receive mentoring and are held accountable to complete their Plan. Plan completion is required to complete this diversion program.
- Youth who exit successfully are encouraged to attend a graduation ceremony to celebrate successful reentry into the community in good standing, having taken responsibility for their wrongdoing.
Visit https://www.restorativeresources.org/rj---diversion-opportunity-for-transformation.html for more information about the .RJ Program.