Local program helps youth offenders repair harm done in communities
May 13, 2010
The Seward Longfellow Restorative Justice Partnership offers first-time youth offenders an alternative to going to court through participation in a restorative conference.
The program accepts youth ages 10 or older who live or commit a crime in the 55406 zip code. Their typical crimes include trespassing, graffiti, shoplifting and fifth-degree assaults.
....Norbeck said the conferences also have positive results for the community as a whole.
“The community only benefits when you have kids who feel like they don’t have to steer away from adults and be embarrassed about mistakes they’ve made,” Norbeck said. “It feels like you have an investment in their lives going well.”
Norbeck said in many cases, youth are embarrassed and nervous before attending the conference, but that it usually turns out to be a positive emotional experience.
“There are some very special, magical things happening in the room,” Norbeck said.
Braley said though the victim doesn’t always agree to participate in the conference, they are invited to submit a statement about how they have been impacted by the youth’s crime.
“We really ask them to speak from the heart,” Braley said.
She added that a crucial element of the conference is agreeing on a way to repair the harm caused by the youth. This “restorative contract,” can involve an apology letter, community service, participation in positive extracurricular activities or helping out at home.
Braley said she tracks the youth for two years after they complete the program, and that about 60 percent of them don’t reoffend.
The program, which is funded by the government and private foundations, recently lost its state funding.
Braley said though the neighborhoods have been supportive, the program is struggling.
“We’ve had to be creative with our funding,” Braley said.