Youth Transforming Justice is a peer led organization that likes to shine a spotlight on its youth participants. However, there is a vast network of people behind the scenes who also go out of their way to help make this program run successfully. Many are judges and lawyers, who work primarily with adults in their regular occupation, but are passionate about juvenile justice issues. They volunteer many hours of their time to help make YTJ Peer Solutions what it is. Today, we would like to salute Judge Geoff Howard and recognize him for his long term support and contribution.
Judge Howard grew up not far from the Bay Area in Ukiah. After attending public school there, he went to UCLA for undergrad and eventually the east coast for law school. He’s married with two daughters and in his free time, he enjoys a variety of hobbies. “I love to backpack and camp. I like to grow my own food, cook, travel, and ride motorcycles. Although I’ve done less of it in recent years, I'm also an avid SCUBA diver.”
Immediately after finishing law school, Judge Howard began his formative career clerking for a federal judge in San Francisco. He then moved to a large law firm and continued to practice there for 22 years. He has litigated a variety of cases in his law career and spent the last part of his career in private practice focused on intellectual property matters for and against tech companies. For the past 7 years, he has served as a Superior Court Judge on the Marin County bench. “I've had assignments in civil, misdemeanor arraignments, trials, the appellate division, and my current vertical felony department assignment,” he says.
Even before Judge Howard’s involvement with Youth Transforming Justice, he went out of his way to help youth in the juvenile justice system. “Because big firms like the one I was in do not include those [juvenile] cases as part of the paying work, I volunteered and did pro bono work.” While working in San Francisco he worked as Board Chair for an organization called Legal Services for Children. While he was in the process of applying to become a judge eight years ago, he began volunteering for YTJ Peer Solutions (formerly Marin Youth Court), as it was reminiscent of his previous volunteer work in San Francisco. After viewing just a single case YTJ peer hearing he was hooked. He particularly admired YTJ’s focus on early intervention. “The youth and the community are far better served if we can intervene early in a restorative way, identifying and magnifying within them what they can contribute and do well, connecting them to a restored and supportive community in the process.”
Judge Howard has seen even in the traditional legal system a trend towards more restorative approaches and is hopeful it will continue in that direction. He explains that two of the main keys to implementing more restorative practices in the criminal justice system are education and data. Data is needed to show that restorative practices work in a variety of ways including reducing recidivism and providing victim satisfaction, and education about restorative justice on a wider scale. It is important for both the victim and the perpetrator to understand and be in agreement for the process to be effective. “No one has ever been born destined to get into legal trouble. Although some have more challenges to overcome than others, I believe everyone has a basic goodness inside of them that yearns for community connection.”
Judge Howard has been with Youth Transforming Justice for eight years and has witnessed YTJ’s growth as an organization. But he believes that what makes this program so great has remained, and that is the empathy of all of the youth volunteers. “Although much has changed about the program since I started, not just its name, what remains constant is the remarkable work done by the kids supporting their peers in all aspects of the program. I always feel privileged to witness the power of their work with each other.”