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Restorative Justice Pilot Program Would Pair Victims With Prisoners

SACRAMENTO -- A new restorative justice pilot program would put offenders face to face with victims in an effort to prevent future crimes.

“On March 24, 2003, I participated in the planning and acting out of a robbery. The plan was to take $1,000 worth of marijuana from this young man. No guns, knives or weapons were to be used," said Adnan Khan.

But that's not what happened on that night in Antioch. One of Khan's accomplices pulled out a knife, sending a 19-year-old to the morgue and Khan to prison for 25 years to life.

“And I remember just hysterically crying, I just couldn't believe what had just happened,” Khan said. “So, empathy and everything, it was all there from the beginning but 16 years into my incarceration, I carried that every day, every day."

The weight of it all without the chance to make amends directly is what led him to convince wardens to bring together crime victims and those who have committed crimes to talk through the pain.

It's a model that has inspired five million new state budget dollars for a pilot restorative justice program in San Joaquin County.

"This is going to put power and tools and an opportunity to heal back in the hands of our victims," said San Joaquin County District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar.

Salazar has been running a similar program for the last three and a half years. It’s offered to offenders with the consent of the victim and on the recommendation of a team of mental health, substance abuse, job, education and housing experts. Murderers, rapists and child abusers are not eligible.

"We also need to make sure the individual is ready to go into a program,” Salazar explained. “Not everybody's ready. We've offered the program to others and they've declined because it’s too much work."

In addition to talking with the victims, offenders agree to complete a rigorous program that should send them out from behind bars, working and complying with recovery with traditional punishments dropped. If they fail, it's back to jail.

"Ninety-five percent success. They don't come back," Salazar said.

The traditional penal system in California has about a 70% recidivism rate.

Assemblywoman Susan Eggman helped co-author the bill that will pay for the program's expansion in her district.

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