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A People-Focused Solution

Restorative justice programs may offer the best new hope for reducing violence in Oakland schools and the city overall, but their future funding is uncertain.



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Currently, restorative justice coordinators are paid from a variety of sources, including a three-year federal School Improvement Grant and a grant from the City of Oakland's Fund for Children and Youth. The district coordinator of the program is paid with Medi-Cal funds for local educational agencies. In three schools, including Castlemont, the program is operated by the nonprofit Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth, supported by The California Endowment and Oakland Measure Y funds. Currently the district itself has no money allocated for restorative justice from its general fund nor has the City of Oakland, other than from its Fund for Children and Youth, which is a restricted, limited fund within the city's general fund. In addition, Measure Y is scheduled to expire next year.

Yusem, the OUSD restorative justice coordinator, said it would cost up to $3 million a year to implement restorative justice programs in all of the district's ninety schools.

On the county level, Deputy DA Golde said he would like to see the Juvenile Justice system adopt restorative justice as a regular program, to expand its availability (the CommunityWorks program can handle only 95 kids a year), and give it a stable funding source. Currently, the program is funded by a grant from the California Board of State and Community Corrections that lasts for three years.

Beyond that, it's unclear where money will come from for local restorative justice programs. For now, many schools will likely continue to practice more traditional disciplinary methods, including out-of-school suspensions, despite the fact that research shows such practices can produce bad outcomes.

"The problem is it doesn't work; suspensions beget more suspensions," said OUSD Behavioral Health Manager McClung. "It's a strategy of marginalization. The more people are marginalized, the more they become a criminal element."

For years, McClung added, "we've operated on the principle that you can get rid of the bad kids and teach the good kids. That's why Oakland has one of the highest crime rates in the country. It turns out there's no way to get rid of people. They're in the community. It's better to build relationships with them — heal, coach, mentor."

Clarification: The City of Oakland's Fund for Children and Youth is a limited, restricted fund within the city's general fund.

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