The Kings Canyon Unified School District in Reedley, California, has introduced a restorative justice program to address juvenile crime. Instead of involving the juvenile justice system, district coordinators are opting for a more alternative approach. John Swenning, a Restorative Justice Coordinator with law enforcement experience, leads the program. The initiative aims to provide an alternative method for handling student offenses, focusing on accountability and understanding.
When an offense occurs, Swenning and other administrators initiate the process. The program is voluntary and not applicable to all crimes. Offenders involved in offenses such as fighting are eligible for the program. Swenning meets with the offender and their parents, as well as the victim and their parents. If the student is willing to accept responsibility, show remorse, and acknowledge the wrongdoing, a mediation session is arranged between the offender, victim, and their families.
While students are still required to face district discipline, including suspension, the program may also involve restitution or community service. Swenning, along with coordinators Jake Harder and Ben Hernandez, reports a success rate of approximately 95%, with only 5% of the more than 1,000 students served since 2011 re-offending.
Reedley Police Commander Marc Ediger, who has been involved in coordinating the program since its inception, highlights the positive impact it has had on the community. By handling issues internally, the police can focus on more serious offenses. Swenning expresses pride in the changes observed in the students, emphasizing the opportunity the program provides for them to make amends.