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DC official used restorative justice for young criminals of stabbings, hate crimes to avoid jail time

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A government bureaucrat boasted about implementing a program based on an “ancient indigenous practice” at the Washington, D.C. attorney general’s office to allow some young criminals, who committed stabbings and hate crimes, to avoid jail time. 

Seema Gajwani was hired in 2015 by the D.C. attorney general as special counsel for Juvenile Justice Reform. Gajwani used her position to implement a restorative justice program, which was created in 2017 to address racial inequities in the criminal justice system. Restorative justice emphasizes the rehabilitation of the perpetrator of the crime by seeking reconciliation with the victims. One practice is often a conversation between the perpetrator and the victim, if the victim consents.

The D.C. office’s program, which used restorative justice for a few hundred cases, excludes youth who committed homicide, sexual assault or domestic violence from its program. 

“We have successfully used restorative justice in stabbing cases, in carjackings and burglaries, all instead traditional prosecution,” Gajwani said about her work as the program’s chief during a 2021 webinar. “We are focusing on serious violent crime.”

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“So now our restorative justice program has caseloads that consist of robberies, gun offenses, and even serious assaults,” she continued.

From around the time the program was implemented, carjackings, for example, jumped annually from 148 in 2018 to 958 in 2023, according to data from the Metropolitan Police. However, burglaries, hate crimes, and assaults with a deadly weapon steadily dropped over that same time period. The data includes crimes committed by both adults and juveniles. 

Gajwani led the program until around 2023, and now works as an executive director at Maryland’s Juvenile Services, where she manages a $5 million budget “funding nonprofits that address crime,” according to the state’s strategic plan. 

Gajwani noted that her program, under former D.C. attorney general Karl Racine, diverted juvenile criminals who targeted LGBTQ individuals from prison. The restorative justice program is still active under AG Brian Schwalb, who took office in 2023. Schwalb believes restorative justice is “a path forward for public safety.” 

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“We do handle hate crimes,” Gajwani said during a 2022 Department of Justice webinar. “We’ve seen several hate crimes come through our office, crimes of bias that result in violence towards people because of their sexual orientation, because of their race or ethnicity.”

Gajwani offered an example from 2019 in which a transgender woman was taunted, spit on and then physically assaulted.

That same year, Gajwani was offered a fellowship at the Obama Foundation, which acknowledged that her restorative justice program was used in cases of “serious crime.” 

“Seema launched the first restorative justice program housed within a prosecutor’s office, in which restorative justice facilitators bring together young people charged with serious crime and willing victims of those crimes to engage in a dialogue about what happened, how everyone was impacted, and what needs to happen to resolve the matter to the extent possible,” the Obama Foundation site states. 

During the 2021 webinar, Gajwani explained there was a “weird situation” in D.C. in which most of the kids arrested for crimes are “kids of color.” 

“None of the kids in the system are White kids, frankly,” she said. “Restorative justice is an antiracist way to hold people accountable for committing crime.”  

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“We are seeking public safety and also to undermine some of the systemic racism that exists in our justice system. And so I think it’s actually quite hopeful that there is a real conversation about restorative justice, both for hate crimes, [and]… criminal justice in general,” she added. 

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Fox News Digital reached out to Maryland’s juvenile wing and the D.C. attorney general’s office for comment. Schwalb’s office said that their office doesn’t automatically use restorative justice for all cases. 

In 2018, Schwalb said he was “a believer in restorative justice” and considered it “a path forward for public safety,” according to a video on his Facebook account. 

“We need to make sure that we understand the power of reconciliation, of understanding that people who have done bad things don’t always have to be defined by the worst moments of their life. That there is power. In a community of acceptance, of apology, of healing and community. That’s what restorative justice is,” he said. 

Gajwani, who did not respond to a comment request, believes restorative justice will inspire empathy in the assailant committing acts of hate. 

“I do believe that our adversarial system is one that is not well suited for getting at the nuance and long term public safety that we think that we are getting,” Gajwani explained in the 2022 DOJ webinar. “Restorative justice is an ancient indigenous practice that… bring[s] the people who are impacted by a harm together to address what happened, how everyone was impacted and what needs to happen to make things right.” 

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The research for the effectiveness of restorative justice at reducing recidivism is “highly” varied, according to a 2017 systemic overview commissioned by the DOJ.

The DOJ overview also stated more rigorous studies had “diminished” findings on the effectiveness of this diversion tactics. 

“The findings suggest certain restorative justice programs could reduce future youth delinquency and increase victim satisfaction with the outcome. However, it is unclear how much confidence can be placed on these results; additional rigorous evaluations are needed to substantiate the promising effects identified,” the overview said .

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