For youth in underserved San Diego neighborhoods, Francisco Carbajal is a turnaround specialist. He has a gift for diverting at-risk students away from the juvenile justice system and toward a path to educational achievement and community leadership.
Francisco manages the Restorative Community Conferencing (RCC) Program at the National Conflict Resolution Center (NCRC) as part of the organization’s celebrated “Avoiding the Pipeline to Prison” Initiative. With strong support from regional law enforcement and education leaders, the “Pipeline” program has kept many local youth in school and out of prison, and it has helped San Diego neighborhoods and families become stronger.
Working out of NCRC’s City Heights field office and its Center for Community Cohesion in South East San Diego, Francisco has helped position NCRC as a pioneer in the field of restorative justice. He begins the RCC process by bringing together the key players: the responsible youth who have caused harm and their families, the people who have been harmed and their supporters, and community members who serve as facilitators and mentors.
The resulting dialogue forges new relationships built on trust and mutual respect. By the end of the process, all parties agree to a plan of action to address damage caused and determine how it can be repaired.
“Our RCC program is proof that restitution has far greater value to society than retribution,” said Francisco. “We are shifting the focus from enforcing legal rules to serving human needs by emphasizing accountability and resolution through dialogue with all impacted parties.”
The RCC program’s results have been remarkable. Since its inception, 95 percent of referred youth have made appropriate restitution, avoided formal charges, and stayed out of trouble. In fact, participants in the RCC process have had a recidivism rate of just 5 percent, well below the 33 percent recidivism rate for youth who did not have the opportunity to participate.
Francisco’s community service career is grounded in his passion for equality, peace and justice, which were the focus of his studies at San Diego State University’s renowned International Security and Conflict Resolution Program, where he earned his undergraduate degree. But his dedication to his clients in the RCC process comes from his own personal experience as a youngster who benefited from guidance and mentoring.
“I’ve learned in my own life that anything is reachable when people engage in collaborative and productive dialogue,” he said, “and I feel fortunate to have an opportunity to share that lesson with others.”