June Meeting Recap

By Hilary Crosby 

Our meeting began with some information from our member Sue Roberts about the process going on to naming the new school which will replace Portola Middle School.  Currently, the there is a proposal to name the school in honor of Fred Koramatsu, the Japanese-American who challenged the legality of Executive Order 9066 which removed people of Japanese ancestry from militarily sensitive areas and put them into internment camps.  There is conflict since the new school replaces one named for Gaspar de Portola, a Spanish soldier, the first governor of California, and the European credited with the discovery of Monterey and San Diego bays.   There is lot of sentimentality for families from both Castro Elementary and Portola Middle Schools.  Some people think Sundar Shadi, the El Cerrito resident who built and donated the little town of Bethlehem model to El Cerrito should be in the running.

Al Miller, previous ECDC president and Nancy Gans honoree has been opening and closing the room for our meetings for many years.  He is seeking volunteers to take over that responsibility.  He also pointed out that Hilary and Kip have been providing pizza (which is available for $5 per person) and complimentary cookies and coffee for several years.  He suggested that it’s time that responsibility was transferred as well.  (Hilary and Kip did not disagree, although this is not an urgent matter at this time.)

Betty Brown informed us that plans were approved by consensus to initiate Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (JROTC) at DeAnza. In the 80’s the community voiced opposition to this, and the school board voted it down. Initiating JROTC is a step backwards.  All of the school board members except Elaine Merriweather have expressed approval of bringing JROTC back into our district. Al Miller noted that WCCUSD will pay $100,000 for this, not the military.

Ayore Reiunda thanked for support – he received got 27,000 votes but lost in his race for Contra Costa County auditor/controller.  He will try again in 2018.

Our speakers were Jerry Elster program coordinator and Laura Manyani for from Healing Justice of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), and they spoke about Restorative Justice (RJ).

RJ is different from punishment.  Imprisoning convicted criminals has a 70% failure rate.  RJ is based on healing and wholeness, not punishment.  Bring the victim, the accused and the community together.  Conflict between individuals affects the entire community, not just the victims.

They provided comparisons with indigenous people in New Zealand (Maori) to the American system. Maori treat the incidents in a circle to develop a plan to restore the victim to wholeness and redeem the perpetrator.  In New Zealand, a perpetrator can be a leader; in America, perpetrators become lifelong prisoners.

Mr. Elster, a gang member, went to prison and served 27 years after murdering another gang member.  In prison he tried to repay and cure himself and started working in programs in RJ, beginning with Victim/Offender (V/O) education.

In V/O, he really got to understand what his crime meant from the other perspective.  The Inside Prison Project works inside jails and with the community and victims and survivors of crime.  When this idea was first proposed, legislators didn’t think victims were ready for this approach.  Without a restorative process, released prisoners can’t get housing, work, or re-integrate into the community.

R Joy – Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth – tries to get in front of the crime.  They go into the Oakland schools and to the households where at risk and offending youth BEFORE they get into the criminal mentality.  They build the circle, create space for youth to build alternative approach.

Currently in California, the US Supreme Court ruled that we had to reduce our prison population in order to deliver constitutional level of care for prisoners.  Gov. Brown came up with re-alignment which basically moved the prison population to the County level.  It didn’t include community programing requirement.

Alameda County finally hired a resource program coordinator.  At the State level released prisoners get $200 – the same amount as 1968.  But on release from County jail, they don’t get anything. They are trying to come up with a plan to build community based organizations for people coming out of incarceration, and they have been successful in getting some improved in mental health care.

Contra Costa Chief of Probation Earl Carter also listened to the community and hired a community based pre-release coordinator.

Laura Manyani discussed really engaging the community by engaging families.  She also used the example of New Zealand where no child can be put into the criminal system without experiencing the conferencing system. Bring parents, teachers, and other family members together to figure out why a child is deteriorating.

This is also occurring in high schools in Oakland.  Truants, low graduation rate, etc. are usually addressed with suspension.

Mr. Elster didn’t believe he had a second chance, but in Alameda there is a program called Second Chance to re-emphasize to youth that you can have a second chance.  Their program is called Clean Slate – an adult or child gets to appeal and get a clean slate to start over after minor infractions.  Offenders have to apply and pay $150 application fee.  If they can wear Jordans, they can afford $150.  Ms. Manyani pointed out that since they usually steal the shoes, that’s not a good model.

In Alameda they have a fee waiver, but that’s in the hands of the judge and police.  CoCo got rid of application fee.  Now there’s a bill to get rid of the application fee. So any child who commits a minor offense, can apply for Clean Slate. AB 1756 – sponsored by our Assembly Member Nancy Skinner.

After the main presentation, our members had a chance to ask questions and make points.  ECDC member Pam Mirabella, our representative on the County Board of Education (BOE) asked if people know they can reach out to County BOE to get resources to help youth transition.