Contra Costa DA finds funds for youth diversion program

MARTINEZ — Contra Costa District Attorney Diana Becton is trying to revamp how the criminal justice system deals with kids and teens, and now her office has the funds to start.

On Friday, the district attorney’s office announced it had secured a $1 million grant to start a pilot juvenile diversion program. Without the grant, which came from the Board of State and Community Corrections, the program wouldn’t be funded, an office spokesman said.

“I am proud to have this program for the first-time ever in our county’s history,” Becton said in a written statement that was included in the news release. “Our Office has a crucial role to play in reducing the pipeline into the juvenile justice system while at the same time reducing disparities in the entire criminal justice system. We have invest in our youth to ensure they have other opportunities in their lives.”

The pilot program will offer alternatives to criminal prosecution for anyone under 18, and focus on restorative justice — a system that deals with people who commit crimes through education and making amends, rather than incarceration. The program will be tested in Richmond this fall, and expand across the county from there.

The goal is to divert up to 230 children from the criminal courts, and it is modeled after a similar program in Alameda. The goal is to, “work with young people who have committed crimes and bring them together with those they have impacted in the community in order to atone for damages made and rebuild relationships,” the news release says.

Becton’s office is partnering with the county’s probation office, as well as the Impact Justice, a restorative justice group, and the RYSE Center in Richmond, a youth-empowerment organization.

“Alameda County’s restorative justice program was remarkably successful as recidivism rates decreased; youths who participated in the program were 44 percent less likely to recidivate compared to similarly situated probation youth,” the news release says. “The program carries a one-time cost of $4,500 per case while probation costs $23,000 per year and incarceration costs nearly $500,000 annually.”