Community Justice Centers in Armenia
Project Harmony was founded in 1985 to help build a strong global community by fostering civic leadership, harnessing Internet technology, and facilitating cross-cultural learning. It operates in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Russia and Ukraine, as well as the state of Vermont.
The ZANG Armenian Legal Socialization Project was started by Project Harmony in August 2003, with funding from the U.S. Department of State Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. The project has focused on legal education in schools, public education about juvenile justice issues, and community justice centers.
Using experiential curriculum to help students explore their beliefs and attitudes about the law, the ZANG project established new collaborations between educators and law enforcement professionals working with youth. This critical partnership has led to positive changes in the areas of public safety, crime prevention and civil society development. Among these changes were Armenia’s first Community Justice Centers (CJC).
In the spring of 2005, a group of Armenian educators and police officers affiliated with the ZANG program visited a Community Justice Center in Winooski, Vermont. The Winooski Community Justice Center provides a variety of citizen-facilitated restorative processes for matters ranging from minor disputes to serious criminal acts with both youth and adults.
The goals of the Winooski Juvenile Reparative Board are for youth participants to: 1) understand the impact of the crime on victims and community; 2) make amends to the victim; 3) make amends to the community; and 4) learn ways to avoid re-offense. Vermont has established a network of municipally-based justice centers throughout the state, supported by the Department of Corrections.
Upon return to Armenia, the participants expressed strong interest in implementing a similar juvenile justice process. Over the following 18 months, they worked closely with their American colleagues to explore U.S. restorative justice programs, court diversion projects and teen court systems. In addition, Project Harmony facilitated professional development of law enforcement officers and educators through several additional exchanges on implementing and developing community juvenile justice centers and restorative justice programs.
Beginning in August 2006, Project Harmony piloted community-based juvenile justice centers (CJC) in Yerevan and Vanadzor. The Yerevan CJC is located in the Health and Education Armenian Center and the Vanadzor CJC is located in the Police Department.
The community justice centers facilitate reparative board meetings for juveniles who committed non-violent crimes with the full support and engagement of parents and community members.
The CJCs have adopted the following restorative justice principles:
- It is a different way of thinking about crime and society’s response to it.
- It focuses on the harm caused by crime - repairing the harm done to victims and communities and reducing future harm by preventing crime.
- It requires offenders to take responsibility for their actions and for the harm they have caused.
- It seeks redress for victims, recompense by offenders and reintegration of both within the community.
- It is achieved through a cooperative effort by communities and local government (peace and order).
The CJCs have been implemented in close collaboration with Armenian Police within the framework of the Armenian National Program for Child Protection of Juvenile Police.
Currently, both police departments and schools refer cases to the ZANG Yerevan and Vanadzor CJCs.
Participation is voluntary, and current cases are related mainly to theft and behavior problems. The young people undergoing the CJC reparative process show significant changes in their behavior along with better attendance and performance at school.
As of April, 2007, 17 cases have been heard between the two CJCs, resulting in approximately 200 hours of community service and participation in educational activities. The young people undergoing the CJC reparative process show significant changes in their behavior along with better attendance and performance at school.
Project Harmony plans to expand the CJC project and establish two more CJCs in 2007-2008.
To learn more about the Community Justice Centers in Armenia and about other Project Harmony programs please visit: www.projectharmony.org