Kings Canyon Unified School District sees success through Restorative Justice program

Jessica Harrington Image
Thursday, November 2, 2023
King Canyon Unified sees success through Restorative Justice program
Instead of sending those kids into the juvenile justice system, district coordinators are working on restorative justice.

REEDLEY, Calif. (KFSN) -- In the Kings Canyon Unified School District, officials are reshaping the way they tackle juvenile crime.

Instead of sending those kids into the juvenile justice system, district coordinators are working on restorative justice.

John Swenning is a familiar face to students at Reedley High.

While he's not a teacher, he does play an influential role in students' lives.

Swenning is a Restorative Justice Coordinator for the Kings Canyon Unified School District.

With years of law enforcement experience under his belt, he knows how to handle tough situations.

"I got tired of being a part of putting people away in jail or prison. I want to keep them out now," Swenning said.

The Restorative Justice program looks to provide an alternative approach to handling student offenses.

As soon as an offense happens, Swenning along with other administrators start the process.

The program is voluntary.

Not every crime qualifies but, if applicable for the crime, such as fighting, Swenning meets with the offender and their parents.

He also meets with the victim and their parents.

If and when the student is ready to accept responsibility, admit to what they've done and show remorse or understanding that what they did was wrong, a mediation takes place between the offender, victim and their families.

"It's generally pretty emotional, it's always a safe place. We've seen a lot of tears, handshakes, hugs after, you know," Swenning said.

Students are still required to serve any district discipline such as suspension.

And even through the program, they may have to pay restitution or do community service.

Swenning, who works alongside with coordinator Jake Harder and case manager Ben Hernandez, says the program is successful and with more than 1,000 students served since 2011, and only about 5% have re-offended.

Reedley Police Commander Marc Ediger who has helped coordinate the program since its inception and says he's seen the difference.

Ediger says having the school handle issues internally, with success, enables police to be better at their own jobs.

"It allows our police officers to really focus on those more serious offenses, those more serious crimes," he said.

Swenning says they're proud of the changes in the community and the students.

"We're providing them the opportunity to do the right thing and make it right. I mean, the majority, 99.9% of our kids, they want to do that, " Swenning said.

The coordinators say this wouldn't be possible without full support from police, school administrators, the district attorney's office, probation and beyond.

They say it's truly a team effort to be successful.

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