Get Informed

Subscribe to our newsletters for regular updates, analysis and context straight to your email.

Close Newsletter Signup

Oakland’s renowned school restorative justice program is in jeopardy


What you’ll read today

  • Oakland’s renowned school restorative justice program is in jeopardy

  • Bail activist jailed for trying to help when cops confronted man in mental health crisis

  • Prison tech company is questioned for retaining ‘voice prints’ of people presumed innocent

  • Harris County, home of Houston, says no to 102 new prosecutors

  • Federal judge says Alabama prisons are ‘deliberately indifferent’ to mental health of people in solitary

  • Los Angeles County will tear down jail, but there are questions about the treatment center that will replace it

  • Charlotte City Council says nonvoters, including those who are undocumented or disenfranchised, can serve on city bodies

In the Spotlight

Oakland’s renowned school restorative justice program is in jeopardy

The Oakland Unified School District’s restorative justice program has been recognized as a national model for school discipline policies. The program began in Oakland, California, schools in 2007 in collaboration with Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth and has slowly expanded throughout the district. Now the program is facing budget cuts that could effectively gut it. [David Washburn / EdSource]

The district’s proposal for over $20 million in budget cuts requires more than $850,000 cut from the restorative justice program. David Yusem, the district’s restorative justice coordinator, told EdSource, “Really what it looks like is they’re laying off almost all the [restorative justice] people. It’s devastating—the amount of brain power they will lose is immeasurable.” The co-founder and executive director of the National Association of Community and Restorative Justice described the news as “very disappointing to hear” and said, “I think of all the sunk costs that went into creating such a robust and effective program.” [David Washburn / EdSource]

In addition to steep cuts to the restorative justice program, the budget proposal would also do away with another alternative school discipline program. Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports’ social and emotional learning department would be cut to one person. [David Washburn / EdSource]

In 2016, the Obama administration issued “The Continuing Need To Rethink Discipline,” a report on harsh school disciplinary measures, their disproportionate use on students of color and disabled students, and their consequences for learning and involvement in the criminal legal system. The disparities in treatment begin shockingly early. Department of Education Civil Rights Data Collection from 2013-14 revealed that Black children were 3.6 times more likely to be suspended in preschool than white children. In the K-12 years, suspension rates for Black children were 3.8 times higher than those for white children. Students identified for services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act were issued out-of-school suspensions at twice the rate of their peers. Despite constituting only 12 percent of students, they also made up the majority of students subjected to physical restraints and seclusion. [The Continuing Need to Rethink Discipline / Executive Office of the President]

These punishments hinder learning, affect students’ health and well-being, and fuel the school-to-prison pipeline. The report also pointed to the ways these disciplinary approaches distort funding priorities. “Twenty-one percent of high schools nationwide do not provide access to the social-emotional support provided by a school counselor,” and 1.6 million students “attend a school that has a sworn law enforcement officer but not a counselor.” And “in the top 10 largest districts in the nation, where more children of color attend school, there are, on average, more police and school-based resource officers in place than school counselors.” [The Continuing Need to Rethink Discipline / Executive Office of the President] Last year, as state legislatures and school districts called for additional school resource officers after the Parkland, Florida, shooting, the Daily Appeal looked at how school “safety” measures can harm Black and brown students.

The alarming national picture explains the importance of, and attention given to, the restorative justice program in Oakland schools. The school district was one of 12 identified by the Obama administration as a model of successful alternative discipline policies. Under the program, suspension rates districtwide went down 57 percent in six years. Suspensions for “defiance” went down 75 percent in five years. These gains, the White House report said, “reflect deep structural changes at both the district and school site level resulting from more positive, restorative, and trauma-informed responses to student behavior, and a commitment to equity and inclusion.” [The Continuing Need to Rethink Discipline / Executive Office of the President]

Lara Bazelon, law professor at the University of San Francisco law school, looked at the Oakland program in her book “Rectify: The Power of Restorative Justice After Wrongful Conviction.” Bazelon tells a story from 2013 about Cedric, a 16-year-old whose acceptance to high school after 10 months in a juvenile camp was conditioned upon his participation in a restorative justice circle. “Cedric freely admitted,” Bazelon writes, “that he was unhappy about having to sit in a circle” with his parents, teachers, school administrators, a psychologist, and peer mentors “to talk about the pain he had caused other people or the deprivation and harm he had experienced himself. The prospect, Cedric said, ‘made me feel like walking out the damn room.’ But he did it.” And as he and his mother and stepfather spoke, it was revealed that Cedric was getting into trouble because he was trying to help his mother, who was unemployed, pay the rent. [Lara Bazelon / Juvenile Justice Information Exchange]

The adults in the circle responded with love and support, and the facilitator of the circle, the program’s coordinator at the school, “addressed Cedric directly, saying, ‘I will be your brother, I will be your uncle, I got your back. I got stuff for you. Come and get it. And I say this in front of everybody because if I don’t, I need all these people to hold me accountable.’” Cedric was ultimately admitted to Bunche High School and graduated four years later. [Lara Bazelon / Juvenile Justice Information Exchange]

In 2015, Oakland announced that it would introduce restorative justice practices into all its schools by 2020, given the decreases in truancy and suspensions and the increases in test scores and graduation rates. [Lara Bazelon / Juvenile Justice Information Exchange] Now the program is in jeopardy. The budget cuts under consideration will require laying off for more than 100 people and closing or consolidating up to 24 schools. One board member blamed the cuts on the state’s failure to fully fund public education. In addition to cutting the restorative justice program, the budget proposal also requires cuts to school counselor positions. During a public comment period last week, a student told the district’s board: “We should not have to suffer because of your inability to manage money.” [Jobina Fortson / KGO-TV]

Stories From The Appeal

 

Elisabeth Epps during a 2018 visit to Chicago.
[Photo Illustration by Anagraph. Photo via Elisabeth Epps/Facebook]

Bail Activist Jailed for Trying to Help When Cops Confronted Man in Mental Health Crisis. Colorado-based attorney and bail activist Elisabeth Epps was just released after serving a short jail stint related to a 2015 encounter with Aurora Police. The experience gave her a new understanding of the experiences of the people she has bailed out. [Aaron Morrison]

Prison Tech Company Is Questioned For Retaining ‘Voice Prints’ of People Presumed Innocent. Defense attorneys say they were unaware of the practice and are unclear on how they can expunge the data of nonconvicted clients. [George Joseph and Debbie Nathan]

Stories From Around the Country

Harris County, home of Houston, says no to 102 new prosecutors: Harris County commissioners yesterday rejected a request from District Attorney Kim Ogg for funds to hire additional prosecutors. Ogg requested $20 million to hire 102 prosecutors, which would have been a 40 percent increase in staff, and said it was necessary to address high caseloads and a backlog of cases. The Texas Criminal Justice Coalition and Texas Organizing Project (which campaigned for Ogg in 2016) criticized the DA for backtracking on her pledge to end mass incarceration. The Texas Civil Rights Project said the proposal “would only result in more prosecutions and more people in our already crowded jails and prisons.” In a press release explaining why he was voting against Ogg’s proposal, one commissioner said that this “significant expansion … signals a commitment to doubling down on our system’s overreliance on arrest, prosecution and incarceration for low-level, nonviolent offenses related to poverty, homelessness, mental health, prostitution and substance use.” [Katie Watkins / Houston Public Media]

Federal judge says Alabama prisons are ‘deliberately indifferent’ to mental health of people in solitary: Judge Myron Thompson issued a 66-page decision Monday ruling that Alabama’s Department of Corrections was “deliberately indifferent” in its failure to evaluate the mental health of people placed in solitary confinement, including those whose mental health deteriorates while in solitary. The ruling came in the lawsuit Braggs v. Dunn brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center and Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Center in 2014. In 2017, after a two-month trial, Thompson found that the mental health care in prisons was “horrendously inadequate,” in violation of the Eighth Amendment’s protection against cruel and unusual punishment, and led to a “skyrocketing suicide rate” among people who were incarcerated. Monday’s ruling came after attorneys for the plaintiffs pointed to the current crisis of deaths by suicide in Alabama prisons—13 in 14 months. [Mike Cason / Al.com]

Los Angeles County will tear down jail, but there are questions about the treatment center that will replace it: Yesterday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a revised plan and a $2.2 billion contract for the construction of, instead of a new jail, a mental health treatment center in the place of the Men’s Central Jail downtown. Plans for the new jail had been in the works for over three years. County estimates show that about 70 percent of the people entering jail have mental health or medical treatment needs. The new center would be staffed by the county’s Department of Mental Health and overseen by the Department of Health, instead of the sheriff’s department. Hundreds of community activists at the meeting asked the supervisors to build five smaller community-based mental health centers, rather than one enormous facility, and questioned the provision of mental health care through the jail system. “We all agree that it’s time to tear down Men’s Central Jail and replace it with a reimagined space,” the president of South LA-based Community Coalition told Curbed LA. But “we believe that 3,800 beds is far too many. And we just need a promise from this board that whatever you move through is…a real commitment to reimagine the way we do safety in this county.” [Bianca Barragan / Curbed LA]

Charlotte City Council says nonvoters, including those who are undocumented or disenfranchised, can serve on city bodies: The Charlotte City Council voted 8-2 on Monday to allow residents who are not registered voters to serve on city-appointed boards and commissions. This would include undocumented immigrants and noncitizens, people disenfranchised for felony convictions, and anyone who has had difficulty registering to vote or has chosen not to register. Adrienne Martinez of the city’s Community Relations Committee spoke before the City Council on Monday. “This is not an effort solely to offer opportunities for individuals who do not have U.S. citizenship,” she told council members. “Voter suppression is a reality in North Carolina, and Charlotte is not immune.” Mayor Vi Lyes pointed out that until 2009 membership on the city bodies was open to all residents, regardless of immigration status. [Ely Portillo / Charlotte Observer]

Thanks for reading. We’ll see you tomorrow.

Have a tip for The Appeal? Write to us at tips@theappeal.org. A good tip is a clear description of newsworthy information that is supported by documented evidence.

Get Informed

Subscribe to our newsletters for regular updates, analysis and context straight to your email.