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Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Restorative justice, diversion programs provide alternatives to incarceration in Yolo County

The District Attorney’s office and the Health and Human Services Agency are seeking state grant funding for mental health and substance abuse treatment 

By LEVI GOLDSTEIN city@theaggie.org

This month, the Yolo County District Attorney’s office (DA) and the Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA) are seeking state grant funding in accordance with Proposition 47 to allocate toward local crime prevention as well as mental health and substance abuse treatment programs, according to a Yolo County press release

Prop 47, a state bill that passed in November 2014, reduced the severity of prison sentences for non-violent offenses such as theft, fraud and drug possession from felonies to misdemeanors. State funds that were previously spent on incarcerations costs have been directed to community-based programs to reduce the risk for criminal offenses and provide alternatives for imprisonment that focus on support and recovery. 

Nicole Kirkaldy, the program coordinator for the DA’s office Restorative Justice Partnership (RJP), is responsible for organizing and directing local Yolo County programs. The county is seeking funding for two different projects, according to Kirkaldy. The first, headed by the HHSA, will help individuals involved in the criminal justice system engage in treatment and receive support. The second, headed by the DA’s office, will help divert misdemeanor offenders to alternatives other than incarceration, specifically those for whom it is suspected that a mental health condition will prevent them from standing trial.

“Instead of going through the traditional court process, they are given the option to engage in treatment and get connected to some supports that would allow them ideally to stabilize across four areas: housing, behavioral health, physical health and income,” Kirkaldy said. “That engagement maintained over a period of time would allow their case to be diverted away from traditional prosecution so that engagement would be prioritized over any kind of punitive approach.”

Prop 47 programs collaborate with local organizations, such as CommuniCare Health Centers and Empower Yolo, to ensure that those at risk for offense, such as individuals experiencing homelessness, become more stable and self-sufficient.

“It’s a target population that has a lot of needs and is dealing with various challenges,” Kirkaldy said. “But for those who were able to really engage with their treatment, engage in the process, and follow that through, they were able to make some pretty significant strides as far as their own stability. And in a lot of ways, […] move forward without some of those burdens that the traditional system can place on a person.”

Throughout April, Yolo County hosted four public meetings to get feedback from the community about previous programs and identify existing areas of need, such as Steps to Success that ran from 2018 to 2021. Ultimately, the results from those meetings will inform the grant funding proposals and guide the programs, according to Kirkaldy. 

Kirkaldy said she is faithful that restorative justice and diversion are significantly more effective and beneficial to the community than traditional incarceration. 

“To me, it’s an approach that focuses on making the community whole,” Kirkaldy said. “It’s not focused on punishment, it’s focused on identifying the impacts […] of a crime, and really looking at ways to address it that will return the community, those involved [and] those affected, victims, participants or offenders, to a place of wholeness, to a place of being able to move forward in a positive direction […] When we really commit to it, I think that it leaves everyone involved in a better position.”

Written by: Levi Goldstein — city@theaggie.org

 

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