SANTA CRUZ COUNTY, Calif. (KION) The Santa Cruz County District Attorney's office has created a program to act as an alternative to criminal court for low-level misdemeanor offenses.
The Neighborhood Courts are expected to give first-time offenders an opportunity to take responsibility and repair harm caused through a community-based process using restorative justice principles.
The hope is that the program will reduce recidivism, address harm and restore the community, victim and offender back into the community.
Eligible cases will be sent by the DA's Office. Although participation is voluntary, participants need to be willing to take responsibility for their actions. Victims will also be allowed to participate on a voluntary basis.
This is how it works- a panel of trained volunteers will meet with the participant and potentially the victim in a confidential conference to discuss harms caused to the victim and/or community; the roots of why the crime happened and directives that are specific, reasonable, attainable and restorative. When the participant has finished the directives, the case will be dismissed and it will not be on their record. If it is not resolved in Neighborhood Courts, the case will be sent back to the DA's Office.
Participants may be referred to more resources if needed.
The DA's Office is looking for community members interested in becoming panelists. They are looking for a diverse group who are from different diverse socioeconomic, cultural, gender, age and professional backgrounds to be trained in restorative justice, cultural competency, effective communication, facilitation and problem solving.
To apply to become a panelist, those interested will need to fill out an application, pass a background check that will not include immigration status, complete volunteer panelist training and observe two Neighborhood Court conferences. It is a two year commitment, but only one year for students.