!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Streamline Training & Documentation: Restorative Justice in San Francisco

Monday, October 26, 2009

Restorative Justice in San Francisco

Back in June I wrote a post about David Kennedy's approach to deterring criminal offenders, who had not yet perpetrated violent crimes, from continuing their illegal activities. Now, thanks to a book review, also dating from June, I've become aware of an approach to reducing recidivism among jailed offenders that seems to be attracting increasing attention in the US after being used successfully in San Francisco since 1997.1

The review, by Helen Epstein, lays out the sorry story of how the US leads the world in its rate of incarceration, thereby putting extraordinarily large numbers of people in an environment that, without special effort, will leave them in no condition to function back in society when they are released. Epstein then goes on to talk about Dreams from the Monster Factory: A Tale of Prison, Redemption and One Woman's Fight to Restore Justice to All, a memoir written by Sunny Schwartz.

Schwartz is a program administrator in the San Francisco Sheriff's Department who co-founded the department's Resolve to Stop the Violence Project (RSVP), along with Assistant Sheriff Michael Marcum and Captain Rebecca Benoit.

Participants in the RSVP Expressive Arts program learn about replacing the macho image of superiority that contributed to their violent behavior, with a more humane view of the male role in society. The theater program also helps participants learn ways of expressing their feelings and needs in a nonviolent manner.

RSVP is a version of what has come to be known as restorative justice, which is most simply defined as:
all approaches to crime that attempt to do justice by repairing the harm crime causes.2
RSVP's founders made a point of designing the program based on input from an advisory committee made up of representatives of a broad cross-section of law enforcement and community stakeholders, including crime victims. The program was the 2004 recipient of the Innovations in American Government Award, presented by the Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

You can get a quick overview of RSVP in the 3:08 video below.

A longer account of the program is offered in the 28:23 video below, which ran on PBS in 2005 as part of the Visionaries series hosted by Sam Waterston.

Among those interviewed are Sunny Schwartz; Michael Hennessey, Sheriff of San Francisco; Ronald Rosado, a Deputy Sheriff working in the dormitory where the RSVP program is based; George Jurand, RSVP Program Coordinator and Manager; Sheryl Corke, Principal of Five Keys Charter School (see below); Teresa Camajani, a history teacher at Five Keys; Delia Ginorio, Survivor Restoration Coordinator; and Jean O'Hara, a former Victim Impact Coordinator, who lost her daughter, son-in-law, and grandson to murder.

There is also footage of unnamed inmates participating in RSVP discussions, including a victim impact presentation by Jean O'Hara.

Using data from a two-year period beginning nine months prior to the inception of RSVP, and continuing for fifteen months after its launch, James Gilligan, then a visiting professor of psychiatry, criminology, and public policy and practice at the University of Pennsylvania, and Bandy Lee. a clinical professor of law and psychiatry at Yale, evaluated the program's effects on inmate behavior. Their hypothesis:
... the dormitory in which violence-prevention skills are taught through RSVP would create a cultural environment that would generate fewer violent incidents than the dormitory without such a programme, [which] turned out to be the case.3
The effect on the frequency with which ex-offenders were re-arrested for violent crimes was also positive: Among jail inmates who took part for a full sixteen weeks, the reduction was over 80% for the first year after release, compared to a control group of non-participants.4

Gilligan and Lee argue that
The seeds of a change in [the in-jail] culture can be seen in some of the principles that characterized the in-house version of RSVP: (1) redefining the male-role image of superiority; (2) holding oneself accountable rather than minimizing or blaming; (3) offering peer-directed guidance and having avenues for promotion; (4) verbalizing rather than acting out: (5) expressing emotions as needs; and (6) offering intimacy rather than offence. ... Finding violence to be not only an ineffectual but counterproductive means of gaining respect in [the] new culture, the inmates would quickly search for other means, which facilitated their compliance and adaptation.
I was particularly interested in the nature of the integrated pre- and post-release services provided to inmates to assist in their transition back into the community, services which bear a not surprising resemblance to those offered in various programs around the country directed at populations with employability barriers.5

The services include:
  • Core RSVP curriculum designed to change attitudes, beliefs and behaviors — includes male role re-education (using the Manalive curriculum), victim impact presentations, drug and alcohol recovery, theater, and release planning (further details below).6

    A propos of the victim impact presentations, Gilligan and Lee comment that "we have been astonished by ... how little awareness most of these men had had as to how much power they had to hurt others, until they listened to ... victims describe their own reactions to being victimized by others." 7

  • Five Keys Charter School — an accredited high school started in 2003 that is geared to adults, both during incarceration and following release. The five "keys" are family, recovery, education, employment, and community. Since 2008, the original Five Keys Charter School has been complemented by two additional charter schools: Five Keys Adult School and Five Keys Independence High.

  • Community meetings — held weekly in the RSVP dormitory to allow participants to discuss day-to-day issues they are coping with.

  • Loss of Innocence class — participants can explore and address trauma and victimization they experienced in childhood.

  • Fatherhood curriculum — a twelve-week program in which participants "discuss the father's role in a child's life, the importance of providing children with a consistent and supportive environment, and issues children face as they grow up in a single parent's home."

  • Young Adult class — inmates twenty-eight and under address their violence, drug dependency, and recidivism problems.

  • Creative writing — participants contribute to the dormitory's newsletter, with the aim of strengthening writing skills and exercising creativity.

  • Transfer planning — produces an exit plan spelling out the steps and tools the inmate will continue to employ in order to maintain a life free of violence and substance abuse.

    The transfer planning includes plans for restoration of victims and the community. For details of RSVP's services for crime victims and survivors, see here. For services to communities, see here.

  • Post-release programs — designed to assist ex-offenders in maintaining behavior changes learned in the in-jail program. Include the Post-Release Education Program (PREP), which continues, at least for the first year, participation in Manalive discussion groups and weekly facilitated support groups. PREP also includes a Life Skills program with three components, the first dealing with job readiness, exploration of career opportunities, and apprenticeship programs; the second involving resume preparation and practice employment interviews; and the third covering tracking of ex-offenders' progress and ongoing support with work-related issues. Participants get counseling and support in such areass as substance abuse avoidance and parenting.

  • Internship Program — for select participants, a four- to six-month training program that prepares them for employment as peer counselors in the jail or at human services agencies.

  • Community advocacy programs — ex-offenders can give back to the community in such ways as leading Manalive groups, performing in theater programs for the public, counseling youth groups, and engaging in victim restitution programs.
I'll wrap up with a summary comment from Sunny Schwartz, et al. that indicates why emulation of RSVP elsewhere is important:
As an affirmative crime prevention tool that actively engages inmates, RSVP has been successful in giving participants, collaborators, and the community a greater understanding of the nature and dynamics of violence, including the spectrum of abusive behavior, the importance of gender-role training, the significance of learned behavior, the methods for unlearning violence, and the criminal implications and consequences of violence.8
1 Helen Epstein, "America's Prisons: Is There Hope?" The New York Review of Books, Vol. 56, No. 10 (June 11, 2009).

As an example of the spread of the RSVP program, see this report by Kate Stone Lombardi in the July 6, 2008 edition of the New York Times, which describes the introduction of the RSVP approach to Westchester County.

2 Restorative Juvenile Justice: Repairing the Harm of Youth Crime, Bazemore and Walgrave (eds.) (Criminal Justice Press, 1999).

3 James Gilligan and Bandy Lee, "The Resolve to Stop the Violence Project: Transforming an In-house Culture of Violence through a Jail-Based Programme," Journal of Public Health Vol. 27, No. 2 (June 2005b), pp. 149-155.

4 James Gilligan and Bandy Lee, "The Resolve to Stop the Violence Project: Reducing Violence in the Community through a Jail-Based Initiative," Journal of Public Health, Vol 27, No. 2 (June 2005a), pp. 143-148.

5 Some of these programs have been the subject of previous posts. See here, here, here, and here.

6Sunny Schwartz, Michael Hennessey, and Leslie Levitas, "Designing: Not Business as Usual," American Jails, Jan-Feb 2005, pp. 10.

7 Gilligan and Lee (2005a).

8 Schwartz, Hennessey, Levitas (2005), p. 12.


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