The dramatic successes of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in healing the wounds of mass violence in South Africa and of restorative juvenile justice legislation in making youth incarceration virtually obsolete in New Zealand inspired civil rights attorney and community activist Fania E. Davis to explore the possibility of an Oakland initiative. In 2005, others joined the effort, including Oakland City Councilmember Nancy Nadel and community activist Aeeshah Clottey. With a small grant from Measure Y, Oakland’s voter-approved violence prevention initiative, Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth (RJOY) was born.
Punitive school discipline and juvenile justice policies activate tragic cycles of violence, incarceration, and wasted lives for youth of color. Founded in 2005, RJOY works to interrupt these cycles by promoting institutional shifts toward restorative approaches that actively engage families, communities, and systems to repair harm and prevent re-offending. RJOY focuses on reducing racial disparities and public costs associated with high rates of incarceration, suspension, and expulsion. We provide education, training, and technical assistance and collaboratively launch demonstration programs with our school, community, juvenile justice, and research partners.
Beginning in 2007, RJOY’s city-funded West Oakland Middle School pilot project eliminated violence and expulsions, and reduced suspension rates by 87%, saving the school thousands in attendance and Title I funding. By May 2008, nearly 20 Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) principals requested training to launch programs at their sites. To date, we have served over 1000 youth in Oakland’s schools. UC Berkeley Law’s Henderson Center for Social Justice evaluated the Middle School pilot and released a study in February 2011. A publication on implementing restorative initiatives in schools produced in collaboration with the Alameda County Health Care Agency is forthcoming. In 2010, the OUSD Board of Directors passed a resolution adopting restorative justice as a system-wide alternative to zero tolerance discipline and as an approach to creating healthier schools.
RJOY has enjoyed similar success in the juvenile justice arena. In 2007, we gave educational presentations to the Presiding Judge of the Juvenile Court and others. Impressed with the restorative justice model, the judge convened a Restorative Justice Task Force. RJOY provided education and training and helped initiate a planning process which engaged approximately 60 program directors- including probation, court, school, and law enforcement officials, as well as community-based stakeholders. In 2009, the group produced a Strategic Plan that charts reform of the county’s juvenile justice system through institutionalization of restorative justice. Two innovative restorative diversion and restorative re-entry projects focused on reducing disproportionate minority contact and associated public costs. The pilots have successfully served 19 youth of color.
RJOY began with programs at three school sites- West Oakland Middle School, Ralph Bunche Continuation School, and a three-year demonstration program at East Oakland’s Castlemont Community of Small Schools funded by a grant from The California Endowment’s Building Healthy Communities Initiative. Goals of the demonstration program were to reduce violence, arrests, and suspensions (particularly of youth of color) while decreasing associated costs and promoting parent and community engagement.
Having trained and made presentations to more than 1500 key justice, community, school, and philanthropic stakeholders as well as youth in the Oakland metropolitan area, and having significantly influenced policy changes in our schools and juvenile justice system, RJOY has already made headway toward its strategic goal of effectuating a fundamental shift from punitive, zero tolerance approaches to youthful wrongdoing that increase harm toward more restorative approaches that heal it.
RJOY’s staff and Advisory Council are comprised of 75% persons of color. RJOY’s past and present funders include Measure Y (City of Oakland’s Anti-Violence Fund), Philanthropic Ventures Fund, the San Francisco Foundation, Butler Family Fund, the Van Loben Sels/Rembe Rock Foundation, Akonadi Foundation, the Marguerite Casey Foundation and The California Endowment. Our former Justice Coordinator was previously subsidized by a justice fellowship awarded from the Soros Foundation. Additionally, RJOY has been awarded contracts for services by government agencies. RJOY is a project of the San Francisco-based fiscal sponsor, Community Initiatives.
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