The Yolo County District Attorney’s 2018 Citizen’s Academy curriculum concluded on June 7, the seventh year that the eight-week course has been offered to the public. This program is designed to help educate the public on a wide variety of topics related to law enforcement and criminal justice.
Supervising Deputy District Attorney Chris Bulkeley presented at the final session of the Yolo County District Attorney’s Citizens Academy to discuss the various programs run by the office that provide alternatives to traditional prosecution. In recent years, the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office has created several programs, and collaborated with other agencies, to tackle challenges within the criminal justice system.
Last week’s presentation covered three of Yolo County’s programs, the Neighborhood Court, the Mental Health Court, and the new Steps to Success diversion program. Bulkeley was joined by Judge Janet Gaard, who oversees the Mental Health Court, clinician Terri Lipelt, probation officer Sean Schaer, and defense attorney Richard Lansburgh for a panel discussion after the presentation.
Neighborhood Court was the first program in Yolo County, and second in the state, to implement restorative justice as a means of resolving adult criminal offenses. Rather than focusing on “who did what” and “what do they deserve,” restorative justice reframes the discussion of misconduct around the questions of “who was harmed” and “what needs to be done in order to repair those harms.”
Victim engagement is essential to these programs, allowing the victim to have a say in the process and express the harms that they experienced as a result of the participant’s misconduct. The restorative justice is a confidential process, allowing participants to express themselves openly without fear of their words being used against them in court.
“This is a paradigm shift. For so long we’ve been taught that criminals deserve punishment. But with the Neighborhood Court, you’re asking the participant to own up to it and be part of the solution,” said Jeannette McCarroll, who serves as a Neighborhood Court volunteer and was a participant in the Citizen’s Academy.
The Mental Health and Addiction Intervention courts have a minimum 18-month program where participants progress through four phases, emphasizing treatment for mental health issues and recovery from any substance use disorders. These program are collaborative efforts between the Yolo County Superior Court, District Attorney’s Office, Health and Human Services Agency, Public Defender’s Office, and the Probation Department.
The MHC Clinician, Terri Lipelt, discussed the new restorative justice process that was recently implemented. This process was designed to help participants recognize the harms of their misconduct and reconcile with victims, incorporating cognitive-behavioral therapy practices. MHC involves parents and family members in the healing process.
The presentation also covered the new Steps to Success program, another collaborative effort between the District Attorney, Probation Department, and Health and Human Services Agency. This program implements an officer assisted diversion component, allowing law enforcement agencies to directly refer individuals that they meet out in the field who ask for help in dealing with mental health and substance use issues.
This new program recently launched in May, combining the restorative justice diversion process featured in Neighborhood Court with a social services-oriented approach similar to the Mental Health Court program.
Towards the end of the presentation, Bulkeley summed up these collaborative efforts: “We need to evolve in how we address crime. What we’re trying to do is reduce the punitive component and focus more on problem solving. That’s the theme that I see that is consistent throughout all of these programs.”
Jake Whitaker is an office support specialist at the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office with experience in the fields of grant writing and restorative justice, with 2½ years as a member of the Neighborhood Court team. Reach him at Jake.Whitaker@yolocounty.org.