The Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse (CADA) applauds The Santa Barbara Independent’s report “Restorative Justice Revisited”. However, the article implies that Santa Barbara County doesn’t have such an innovative approach to juvenile justice and prison diversion. Fortunately, we do. Teen Court, operating in both North County and South County, is a CADA program and Santa Barbara Fighting Back strategy designed for first-time misdemeanor youth offenders. Through Teen Court, youth are held accountable for their actions by a jury of their peers supervised by a judge. The program has over 20 years of success in Santa Barbara County, with over 10,000 participants paying back the harm caused to their victims and their communities.
Teen Court has always used restorative justice practices, which give victims a voice as well as greater attention in the court process. Circle conferencing, described in the article, is one form of restorative justice. Teen Court sentences use letters of apology, restitution, and community service to help offenders mend the harm. Victim statements are included in the court summary, and victims have the opportunity to make statements in person so offenders become aware of the depth of damage they cause and how many people are affected. Participants who complete the terms of their contract successfully without reoffending avoid adjudication on record, which can prevent their entering the “pipeline to prison.”
Santa Barbara County Teen Court is a model for teaching our children how to restore their integrity and the community’s safety through justice in a courtroom of law.