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Marin, San Diego Counties Work To Keep Offenders From Prosecution Through Restorative Justice

The building where Marin County's probation department is housed is shown in ...

Credit: Marin County

Above: The building where Marin County's probation department is housed is shown in this undated photo.

The Marin County District Attorney may allow adult offenders to make amends with the person they harmed instead of prosecuting the case. That’s part of restorative justice, which brings the offender and victim together to reach a resolution.

San Diego has a similar initiative that focuses only on youth in certain communities, which organizers are looking to bring to other neighborhoods. But a district attorney's office representative said the idea of an adult program has also been discussed.

Cindy Ayala, restorative justice program coordinator at the Marin County Probation Department, said out of the 35 people who completed the program since it launched in late 2016, 34 have not re-offended.

About half of the participants were referred to the program before conviction and had their charges cleared after completion. The others went through the restorative justice process post-conviction, which doesn’t guarantee a lesser probation sentence but the department may petition the court for a reduction.

Ayala said the facilitated discussions can also result in other positive outcomes.

"If two parties agree on a restitution and they talk about it and they say, 'Yeah that seems fair. These are the damages that I caused and this is what I’m going to pay for.' And they agree to that, that person is more likely to pay his restitution than had he been simply mandated by the judge," she said, pointing to a 2005 study.

Probation Chief Mike Daly, who first proposed the idea to the district attorney, said many victims aren't focused on repayment for vandalism or theft, but they want answers to lingering questions that may go unaddressed in a traditional criminal proceeding.

"I want to know why you chose me? Were you stalking me? Why did you pick my house? Why did you go through my daughter's room and not my son's room?" he said, citing examples from a victim of a residential burglary.

Daly said he hopes to see restorative justice widely used across the country.

A message with the Marin County District Attorney's Office was not immediately returned.

Adults who commit a crime in Marin County can avoid prosecution by taking part in "restorative justice." A similar program exists in San Diego for some juvenile offenders.


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