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Mid-City CAN Blog

Restorative Justice 100% Successful in City Heights

Debbie Newkirk was riding the trolley when her life changed forever. A 17-year-old snatched her purse, but instead of seeking a punishment, Newkirk sought a new form of justice: restorative justice.

“I decided he’s a young kid, he needs help,” said Newkirk. “And if you can approach him through this and it changes him, go for it.”

Debbie Newkirk tells her story to reporters

City Heights residents and organizations recently gained countywide recognition for advancing the local juvenile justice system. Mid-City CAN’s Peace Promotion Momentum Team formed a restorative justice youth pilot program, partnering with the National Conflict Resolution Center, San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, the County Probation and Public Defender’s Offices. On August 20, these partners gathered at the District Attorney’s office to announce the success of the program.

“Holding youth offenders accountable doesn’t always mean prosecuting them in juvenile court and putting them in juvenile hall,” said Bonnie Dumanis, San Diego County District Attorney. “We need more programs like this that provide second chances, opportunities for young offenders and alternative forms of justice.”

The City Heights Restorative Community Conference Pilot Project offers both the youth offender and the person their crime harmed the chance to make things right within the context of community. Rather than go into the juvenile system, they may voluntarily meet face-to-face and work out customized plans of action, which are designed to repair the harm done to victims, families and the community.

Diana Ross, Executive Director of Mid-City CAN

“Given the number of juveniles in City Heights engaged in the juvenile justice system, we stand to make a tremendous and meaningful impact on keeping kids out of jail countywide while healing those who have been harmed through restoration and accountability,” said Diana Ross, Executive Director of Mid-City CAN.

Youth offenses that qualify for the program include felonies, high-level misdemeanors and probation violations, which have been committed their offense or live in specified Mid-City zip codes.

“We have witnessed the program’s exponential impacts and have seen the ripple effects of the restorative process on the youth, their families and the community at large,” said Steven Jellá, Associate Executive Director of San Diego Youth Services.

In January 2014, the Peace Promotion Momentum Team selected the National Conflict Resolution Center to provide the Restorative Community Conferencing services in an effort to demonstrate an effective alternative to incarceration. Since then, the 24 out of 24 cases that have been all the way through the program have reached an agreement on an action plan for the youth to complete.

Bonnie Dumanis, D.A.

“The 100% agreement rate, 100% satisfaction rate, and 95% compliance rate are evidence of what we all intuitively already know; that dialogue and joint problem solving are more effective means than one-size-fits-all solutions,” said Steven P. Dinkin, President of the National Conflict Resolution Center. “With RCC, community relationships are strengthened, trust and respect grow, and everyone is safer in their homes and neighborhoods.”

That is the exact outcome that Debbie Newkirk experienced after choosing RCC when her purse was stolen. At first hesitant to meet with the youth offender, she ended up loving the process. Newkirk says she was empowered by being able to address him directly and hear his side of the story.


“That was it. We ended up hugging.”

Debbie Newkirk tells her story to reporters

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