As NCCD’s expert on restorative justice, Sujatha Baliga, based in Oakland, CA, is committed to building programs across the country that live up to the best restorative justice has to offer. She leads NCCD’s efforts to institutionalize restorative justice alternatives to juvenile and adult incarceration and zero-tolerance school discipline policies across California and the United States.
A recent multi-year grant from the Office of Justice Programs’ Office for Victims of Crime (OVC/OJP) has put Baliga and NCCD on track to identify, examine, and document current culturally responsive, victim-centered restorative justice practices among American Indian/Alaska Native and urban, inner-city communities, as well as those involving youth.
NCCD will use this information to provide recommendations to OVC/OJP program offices to help guide a future demonstration project on culturally responsive, victim-centered restorative justice interventions. These types of interventions hold great promise when it comes to all-around satisfaction with the resolution of crime, yet the availability of such practices in the United States that are truly effective is unknown. This is most true with regard to tribal communities, urban inner city communities, and for programs involving youth.
Baliga, director of NCCD’s Restorative Justice Project, is serving as the new project’s director and OVC’s point of contact. In that role, she will oversee NCCD’s administration of project tasks, ensure that OVC is involved in all aspects of the project, and maintain close contact with the project’s advisory board to receive routine guidance and assistance on all phases of the project.
“This is the first national survey concerned with two critical matters: the degree to which victim-identified needs are made central to restorative processes, and whether restorative justice programs are inclusive of—and responsive to—communities of color, immigrant communities, and AI/AN communities,” Baliga says.
The OVC grant-funded project—set to begin October 1—will include a literature review, a national scope assessment/environmental scan (including benefits and barriers assessments), interviews with subject-matter experts, and at least five site visits to tribal and urban communities and youth-focused programs.
For the project, Baliga will use her knowledge as a starting point to engage in a rich dialogue about barriers and benefits—which vary based on models, populations, and locations—with advisory board members, experts, consultants, and the literature, as well as what is learned from the national survey. She also plans to attend all site visits and will serve as lead writer of the final report and recommendations.
Along with Baliga, other NCCD staff assigned to the project include Dr. Isami Arifuku, Sarah True, and Natalie Lorraine Ortega. NCCD is partnering with Susan Herman of Pace University and the Thelton E. Henderson Center for Social Justice in this endeavor.
Baliga is equally dedicated to victims and persons accused of crime. A former victim’s advocate and public defender, Baliga was awarded a Soros Justice Fellowship in 2008, which she used to implement a restorative juvenile diversion program in Alameda County, CA, that keeps more than 100 children out of the juvenile justice system each year. Baliga has served as a consultant to the Stanford Criminal Justice Center, has taught restorative justice to undergraduates and law students, and is a frequent guest lecturer at academic institutions and conferences. She was honored as Northeastern University Law School’s Daynard Fellow and has been a guest on NPR’s “Talk of the Nation.”
Debra Illingworth Greene is an Editor at NCCD.