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On July 18, 2018, we attended the quarterly meeting for the Family Justice Alliance, a partnership that manages the Family Justice Centers in Richmond and in Concord.  CCSLS has been a partner of the Family Justice Alliance for many years, and currently we are in an active partnership to combat elder abuse.  At the meeting, we learned about some new programs available to Contra Costa residents, including efforts to bring restorative justice to families in Contra Costa.

Restorative justice is a method of addressing harm or crime, which involves the community coming together to solve the issue and address the harm.  Drawing upon indigenous cultures that foster close-knit communities, restorative justice has resurfaced in Western countries as an alternative to the criminal justice system that has been developed to punish offenders.

Often, the process of restorative justice involves “circles,” in which the person who was harmed, the person who did the harm, and the community members for both people, come together and sit in circle to discuss the issue.  Circles are typically led by a circle leader, and everyone in the circle is given a chance to speak.  Restorative justice first emphasizes the agency of the person who was harmed and giving them an opportunity to voice how the harm affected them.  Second, restorative justice stresses that the person who committed the harm must take responsibility for the harm, while acknowledging their personhood and feelings.  Restorative justice has been proven very effective in schools as an alternative to traditional methods of punishment, including here in Contra Costa.

While the criminal and civil justice system offers important safeguards for victims, restorative justice can offer an alternative to the current legal offerings.  In our work at CCSLS, we provide assistance to seniors who have been abused.  Most often, family members and those close to the senior are committing the abuse.  While often times seniors choose to use the restraining order process to protect themselves, many seniors want a different way of handling their cases, especially when separation from the person harming them is not viable for personal or financial reasons.  Because restorative justice pulls in other people who support the senior and the person causing harm, there may be opportunities for healing broken relationships among family members through that process.

The Family Justice Center’s new program will be offered as an option for individuals who have experienced family violence, including domestic violence and elder abuse.  For more information, call the West Family Justice Center at (510) 974-7200.