2004 Winner
City and County of San Francisco, California
Innovations in American Government Awards
Innovations in American Government Awards

San Francisco is perhaps the only place where inmates volunteer to remain in state custody after their sentence has been served. Since 1997 the San Francisco Sheriff Department has implemented and maintained Resolve to Stop the Violence Program (RSVP), a violence prevention program in one of its main prisons. Some inmates have reportedly become so inspired by RSVP that they choose to complete the RSVP curriculum even after they are free to leave the correctional facility.

RSVP's methodology incorporates victim restitution, offender accountability, and community involvement to reduce recidivism, responsibly return ex-offenders to their communities, and prevent further violence. These efforts of the Sheriff's Department have effectively restored a sense of humanity to violent offenders, reduced instances of prison violence, and promoted successful re-entry of former prisoners into society.

Effectiveness studies have shown that the longer an inmate is in RSVP, the less likely he is to use violence in the future. Through multi-dimensional and non-traditional approaches, RSVP addresses inmate violence by addressing the pathologies that cause it.

As opposed to remaining bound to punitive approaches to criminal justice, RSVP has opened the door to restorative justice as an effective method for addressing the various negative impacts of violence on an incarcerated community and the lives of former prisoners. Instead of isolating violent offenders, RSVP advocates an integrated mediation, counseling, and teaching curriculum that both addresses the needs of the victim and engages the offender in an examination of his use of violence. In this way the program goals are two-fold: RSVP seeks to improve the emotional existence and ethical awareness of inmates while concurrently attempting to break the cycle of violence in the greater community.

One of the most critical elements of RSVP is the "Manalive" curriculum which guides offenders through a cognitive process to help them understand the roots and dynamics of their violent behavior and to shift their attitudes. In addition to the standard counseling, "Loss of Innocence" group therapy sessions allow inmates to explore their personal history with violence and victimization, allowing them to gain a better understanding of their own behavior. RSVP offers several other supplementary programs for its participants and facility staff, such as victim-offender mediation, a mentoring program, community theater, a gardening program, poetry writing, acupuncture, yoga, and guided meditation. Also available to inmates through RSVP are substance abuse treatment services, general education, post-release services, and job training programs. The diversity of enrichment, therapeutic, and restorative justice initiatives that define RSVP are made possible by extensive support from the greater San Francisco community. Faith-based groups, nonprofits, and other community stakeholders join together under the auspice of RSVP to contribute to inmate growth and healing and invest in non-violence.

Perhaps the most innovative component of the RSVP program is its internship option. The inmates most responsive to the curriculum may enter specialized training to become RSVP mediators and facilitators upon release from custody. Empowering newly released former inmates with marketable skills and living-wage jobs is central to the success of their re-entry into mainstream society. This facet of RSVP illustrates the program's commitment to the concept of rehabilitation. RSVP administrators operate on the belief that former prisoners should return to their communities with a better sense of how to function, interact, and contribute, as opposed to returning altered by a dehumanizing experience that ultimately makes them prone to violence. The goal of restoring harmony and humanity to troubled communities is better achieved when members are emotionally and psychologically healthy and equipped to participate in society.

As the first program of its kind, RSVP provides ample evidence that restorative justice can be effective in a correctional facility and sets a high standard of administration, collaboration, and implementation for similar initiatives. RSVP is a model of efficiency, as its rational planning, extensive coordination, and program results show. RSVP enjoys the distinction of being transcendent in its methods and transformative in its results.


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