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Santa Barbara County Neighborhood Restorative Justice Program expanding to Santa Maria and Lompoc

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Posted at 5:26 PM, Jul 18, 2023

Santa Barbara County leaders and one Santa Maria nonprofit are partnered up in an effort to provide an innovative, new way of addressing low-level crimes.

Traditionally, when people are arrested for first-time misdemeanors like underage drinking, petty theft and vandalism, they could be in store for a court date, as well as a lasting stain on their permanent record.

The Neighborhood Restorative Justice Program in Santa Barbara County is providing an alternative course of action.

“I think a lot of us in the community are concerned about crime,” said Edwin Weaver, Fighting Back Santa Maria Valley Executive Director. “We want to see crime reduction, we want to see people held accountable for the things that they have done, but we also don’t think that one size fits all.”

The program first launched last year in Goleta. In the coming months, it will be available countywide.

“For someone who has committed a first-time misdemeanor offense like possessing alcohol at the age of 18, a conviction could prevent them from going to college and affect their life forever. A program like this can give that individual an opportunity to understand what they did,” said Jennifer Karapetian, Santa Barbara County District Attorney's Office Chief Deputy.

In place of a traditional courtroom setting where a judge would typically issue a fine, probation, or possible jail time, the Neighborhood Restorative Justice Program takes an alternative approach.

“If someone is arrested for a crime, they will have a chance to sign up for a diversion program called the Neighborhood Restorative Justice panel. Through that, they would meet with community members who have been trained by us at Fighting Back Santa Maria Valley in a restorative process,” Weaver explained.

During that panel setting, first-time offenders will meet with program volunteers and facilitators to take responsibility for their crime, while acknowledging the impact it had on the community.

Elaine Contreras, Legal Support Manager for the District Attorney’s Office, says the panelists will then provide the offender with possible solutions to make things right.

“Whether that be an apology letter, whether it be a research paper on the effects of graffiti in the neighborhood, or it can be that they take an educational class,” she told KSBY. “So there is really a myriad of things they can do to make it a restorative solution.”

After that process is completed, the low-level misdemeanor will then be wiped from the offender’s permanent record.

But in order for the program to get started in Santa Maria, more help is needed.

“Please don’t rule yourself out,” Weaver said. “We would really like you to apply and be part of our panel. I think you will find it very rewarding to be part of this process. You will learn a lot about the judicial system, and you will be giving back to your community in a very unique way.”

Volunteer Neighborhood Restorative Justice panelists have to be 18 years or older and must pass a background check with the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office.

It is expected that the program will be offered in Santa Maria and Lompoc by early fall.

Incidents including sexual assault, robbery and other violent crimes will not be considered for the program. Prior criminal histories will also be taken into consideration.

You can learn more about Santa Barbara County’s Restorative Justice Program and find out how to become a volunteer by clicking here: https://da.countyofsb.org/da/nrjp