Modernizing the Neighborhood Court

Restorative Justice in Yolo County, CA


Restorative justice, where there is no record and no jail time, is a proven means of reducing recidivism. Recent research shows recidivism reduced by 90% in these programs.

Yolo County, Calif., has an outreach program, Neighborhood Court, based on the principles of restorative justice. The program allows those convicted of low-level felonies or misdemeanors to resolve offenses outside of the traditional courtroom. Prior to COVID-19, participants met in a relaxed setting to discuss their conduct with members of the local community panelists.


Due to the pandemic, the District Attorney’s office of Yolo County Neighborhood Court was struggling to communicate with potential participants in the restorative justice project. Phone calls were ineffective and time consuming. Many potential participants would not answer a call from the DA’s office. The DA was facing budget cuts and the possibility of reduced staff. Plus, managers did not have visibility to the entire workflow and staff could not coordinate activities, leading to redundancy and missed opportunities. 


The District Attorney wanted to expand the Neighborhood Court, but it would need to be less costly and more efficient.

The USDR Team

Joey Caffrey

Software Engineer

Debtsy Inc., Founding Manager at HSA Dev

Rachael Lee

Product Manager,
Project Lead

Charlesbank Capital Partners, Ex-Bain, Ex-Quizlet

Waldo Jaquith

Account Manager

Georgetown University, Beeck Center Fellow

The Work

Text messaging has a 98% open rate, better than any other form of communication including telephone calls.* USDR volunteers knew that automating text messaging and eliminating the need to make repeated phone calls to potential Neighborhood Court participants would contribute to efficiency and free-up staff time. 


The USDR team built an application to improve the process of engaging participants, automating outbound communications, facilitating inbound participant communications, and tracking each potential participant’s journey for management oversight and team efficiency.


To send an automatic text message to a potential participant, staff could simply enter his, her, or their information into an SMS form, created in Airtable, with templatized messages, including a scheduling function. When a participant responds to an SMS message, an email notification is sent to the staff for timely follow-up. Staff and the participant are now in direct and personal communication.


A case management system was also built in Airtable providing end-to-end visibility for managers and staff. All communication history is logged in Airtable. Optimizing the operations of the restorative justice project is one step toward its expansion.


Practices Used

  • Product management
  • Service design
  • User research
  • Design studios
  • User experience design

Technology Used

  • Zapier
  • JotForm
  • G Suite
  • DocuSign
  • Slicktext
  • Clio Legal Software

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