Fresno County juveniles who find themselves on the wrong side of the law are getting a second chance through a program that is more likely to keep them out of trouble and at a lower cost to taxpayers than the conventional court system, advocates of the Community Justice Program say.
Supporters of the effort that began in 2008 gathered Wednesday morning along with participants at the county’s Juvenile Justice Campus to tout statistics and tell success stories they say show that the Community Justice Conference can break the downward spiral of arrests and incarceration, which clog courts and the county’s juvenile system.
Instead of warehousing young offenders, the program brings them together with their parents and victims for a solution, advocates say.
It changed me into a whole different person.
Dallas Esquivel, who went through Community Justice Conference
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Presented as evidence was Dallas Esquivel, 15, arrested after he and a friend skipped school and vandalized the Fresno County home of Gayle and Doug Farrell. Esquivel was in custody for two weeks when he was offered the option to join the “restorative justice program.” After meeting with program members and his mother to discuss his situation, Esquivel was given the chance to interact with the Farrells.
“It changed everything,” said Gayle Farrell. “It was a chance to overcome the hurt.” Now, she said, she and her husband find themselves in Esquivel’s corner, cheering for him to succeed.
Esquivel found the thought of meeting with his victims frightening, but he came away from the encounter equally uplifted. He offered to pay for the damage that he had caused to their home, or to do yardwork there. Instead, the Farrells and Esquivel agreed that he would take part in a sports program, steering younger kids on the right path.
“It changed me into a whole different person,” Esquivel said. Now, he is thinking about a career in law enforcement.
Mary Louise Frampton of UC Berkeley said Esquivel’s case is by no means unique. She cited a study that indicates offenders who take part in the Community Justice Conference are back in trouble at a rate of about 2 percent after two years, while offenders who go through the court system return at a rate of 13 percent. Juveniles in the program pay 74 percent of the restitution ordered by courts, compared to 6 percent for those who are not. In addition, Frampton said the total cost for those in the program is about $1,226, compared to $9,538 for others.
“The victim felt a greater sense of safety ... and parents reported better behavior and attitude” by juveniles enrolled in the program, she added.
An added benefit: the Community Justice Conference appears to be lifting morale for those working in the Fresno County court system.
Said Presiding Judge Kimberly Gaab:
“The last thing that we want to see are the same faces going in and out of court. This is a dynamic response to juvenile crimes.”