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Goleta diverts low-level offenders from criminal justice system

Courtesy: Santa Barbara County District Attorney's Office

Goleta is working to keep low-level misdemeanor offenders out of the criminal justice system by putting resources toward something called restorative justice.

Restorative justice is a tactic used to respond to crime that involves repairing the harm it causes. Often the victim, offender and other community members come up with a solution together and avoid criminal court.

Now, a Neighborhood Restorative Justice Program in Goleta will start doing this kind of work locally.

“Prior to actually filing a case with the Superior Court, the person accused of the crime would be given the opportunity to participate in the program,” said Santa Barbara County Assistant District Attorney John Savrnoch.

Savrnoch said the county already has a general misdemeanor diversion program. But this new program in Goleta is designed to foster a sense of connection.

“I think it helps them feel like they’re not an outsider," Savrnoch said. "They’re part of the community.”

Savrnoch said avoiding court for minor misdemeanors means an offender won’t be saddled with a criminal conviction for the rest of their life.

“It could impact employment, impact insurability in certain careers,” Savrnoch said.

He said the program will be available for individuals who commit quality-of-life crimes like vandalism or minor theft. He said crimes involving things like DUI’s, firearms or violence are excluded from the program.

Savrnoch said the program requires effort and work. And everybody that participates has to admit to the crime they would have otherwise been charged for. He said the goal is to establish the program in other communities across the county if it’s successful.

The Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office is currently looking for volunteers for the program. They will be trained in restorative justice principles and participate in community meetings to help guide participants through the process.

For volunteer requirements, click here.

Rachel Showalter first joined KCBX as an intern from Cal Poly in 2017. During her time in college, she anchored and reported for Mustang News at Cal Poly's radio station, KCPR. After graduating, she took her first job as a Producer at KSBY-TV. She returned to the KCBX team in October 2020, reporting daily for KCBX News until she moved to the Pacific Northwest in July of 2022. Rachel spends her off-days climbing rocks, cooking artichokes and fighting crosswords with friends.
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