Danielle Sered discusses restorative justice at Berkeley Forum event

Maya Akkaraju/Staff

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The Berkeley Forum hosted Common Justice Executive Director Danielle Sered, who discussed restorative justice and mass incarceration, on Tuesday night.

Sered touched on alternatives to prison, as well as how Common Justice — a New York-based program that serves as an alternative to incarceration — uses restorative justice as a responsibility-based approach to reducing violence.

“The things that produce violence are shame, isolation, exposure to violence and an inability to meet one’s economic needs,” Sered said.

Sered added that these factors are also core features of prisons. Common Justice is the first and only alternative to incarceration for serious felonies, according to Sered. The organization uses the restorative justice process rather than the criminal justice system.

“After extensive preparation, people come together — the people who caused the harm, the people who are hurt, their loved ones — and have a dialogue about what happened, what its impact was and what the responsible person can do to make things as right as possible,” Sered said.

According to Sered, the responsible party can participate in a number of restorative acts, including attending school, paying restitution, doing community service and having both parties meet each other’s children. If the responsible parties complete the agreements in their entirety, they will not go to prison and will have their felony charges dropped.

Common Justice’s work follows four core principles: that responses to violence are survivor-centric, accountability-based, safety-driven and racially equitable. According to Sered, the current criminal justice system does not reach these goals or give survivors what they need.

She added that 90 percent of victims offered the choice between restorative justice and incarceration for the perpetrator choose to work with the perpetrator and Common Justice.

“Survivors want to be heard,” Sered said. “Survivors want answers. Survivors want a sense of control relative to what happened to them; survivors want a say in that outcome, and survivors want a change that means they and others will be safer.”

During an interview and open Q&A session moderated by campus sophomore Tanya Mahadwar, audience members and Mahadwar asked questions ranging from the efficiency of restorative justice to advice on how community members can grapple with survivors of violence who have also committed acts of violence.

In response, Sered discussed her personal experience with racial inequity in the criminal justice system. When Sered and a friend were charged with nine counts of grand theft auto, their court sentences were dramatically different despite having both appeared in front of the same judge. It was then that Sered decided to make these inequities her “enemy.”

The audience members consisted of both nonstudents and students, including campus law student Henna Kaushal, who said Sered’s experiences were a practical application of campus conversations regarding alternatives to prison.

“I think this was the first time that I was engaging with someone who was heavily involved in the work of creating alternatives,” Kaushal said. “It’s really exciting to see that this is happening in New York.”

Contact Maya Akkaraju at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @maya_akkaraju.