Youth Empowerment & Restorative Justice
The Center for Restorative Youth Justice works to actively engage youth, families, communities and systems in restorative programming that interrupts cycles of violence, juvenile incarceration, and community harm. Our programs create opportunities for at-risk youth to deepen community connections and to find access to important support and reflection that results in powerful change.
CRYJ’s programming was initially designed with the needs of juvenile offenders in mind – focusing on restorative justice practices as an alternative to formal processing, with the goals of effectively reducing recidivism through empathy development and deepened community connection. Through community support, we are now able to offer our services to all youth in need in our community – extending programming to provide proactive support to at-risk youth and families to prevent interactions with the juvenile justice system.
CRYJ offers three primary types of restorative accountability programs:
- Community Impact Circles
- Victim Offender Conference
- Restorative-Mentoring & Service Learning
Community Impact Circles:
Restorative Circles are a community process for supporting those in conflict. It brings together the three parties impacted by a conflict or crime to talk as equals – those who have acted, those directly impacted and the wider community.
Peace-keeping and Talking Circles are a structured process used to bring people together to better understand one another, build and strengthen bonds and to solve community problems. At CRYJ, our Community Impact Circles serve as a restorative way of getting the most complete picture of whatever issue is at hand for youth and families, and to enable participants to explore values, establish goals for their future, and to expand their understanding of and connection to our community.
Through circle process we share our stories, learn about ourselves, each other and gain a better understanding and sense of empathy. Circle processes are used for decision making, problem solving and conflict resolution – including in schools, neighborhoods, workplaces, and in the juvenile justice system.
The purpose of peacemaking circles is to create a safe, nonjudgmental place to engage in a sharing of authentic personal stories and feelings. Anything that is shared is owned by each individual, and acknowledged by everyone that attends. The circle process allows participants to expand our awareness of our actions, our personal power, and to develop compassion within our communities.
Mark Umbriet describes community circles in his article “Peacemaking Circles” (Umbriet, 2008).
Peacemaking circles, talking circles, or healing circles are deeply rooted in the traditional practices of the indigenous people of North America, as well as from other parts of the world. They are widely used among the First Nation people of Canada and the hundreds of tribes of Native Americans in the United States. The circle process establishes a very different style of communication than most from European traditions are familiar with. Rather than aggressive debate and challenging each other, often involving only a few more assertive individuals, the circle process establishes a safe nonhierarchical place in which all present have the opportunity to speak without interruptions. Rather than active verbal facilitation, communication is regulated through the circle keeper or facilitator by passing a talking piece (usually an object of special meaning or symbolism to the group). The talking piece fosters respectful listening and reflection in a safe setting.
At CRYJ, we involve community volunteers as co-facilitators of the circle processes – representing the voice of our community as well as the voice and impacts of the victims or communities impacted by the youth who attend.
CRYJ’s Community Impact Circle facilitates dialogue between youth, their families/support people, community volunteers, and staff – exploring emotions, values, and impacts in a safe and supportive environment. As circles form, they invite shared power, mutual understanding and self-responsibility within community.
Victim Offender Conferences:
Victim Offender Conferencing (VOC) –VOC is a restorative process in which victims and juvenile offenders sit down together, in a safe environment with a trained impartial facilitator, to discuss the impact and circumstances of a crime, as well as options for addressing the harm that was done. Youth Court views VOC as a way to directly hold youth accountable in a forum that actively involves victims in the juvenile justice process, and in some cases resolves restitution disputes and restores victim losses in innovative ways that benefit all stakeholders, including community. Involved victims are given an opportunity to tell their story of what happened, ask questions, and obtain meaningful restoration and restitution. In addition, it gives youthful offenders an opportunity to take direct responsibility for harm they have done and an attainable means to give remedy and closure. For the community, VOC addresses the welfare of all of its citizens by creating conditions that promote healthy relationships that deter crime and promote a sense of community ownership within youth.
Restorative-Mentoring & Service Learning
All CRYJ participants complete community service and other restorative obligations through CRYJ’s Youth Connections program. This program is designed to provide enriching opportunities for community service that combine critical thinking, civic responsibility, and competency development. In this way, youth envision and establish themselves as necessary and valued community members. Accountability & competency development are key objectives in achieving the restorative goal of increased community safety. Staff members work one-on-one with youth participants to develop an individualized community service action plan that will fulfill the requirements of their restorative agreements. The Youth Connections Program engages a wide range of community partners through innovative service projects and youth workshops.
Restorative Workshops & Community Focus Groups
CRYJ also offers important reflection workshops and activities – providing important support, education, embodiment, and peer-based accountability on a wide range of topics including:
- Drug & Alcohol Workshop: A program designed specifically for first time drug and alcohol related offenses. Each workshops involve conversations between youth volunteers and youth participants, emphasizing self-awareness and personal responsibility. Many of our youth volunteers come through a partnership with Montana Academy – offering a powerful opportunity for youth volunteers with invaluable perspective on substance use and its impact in their lives – while providing an opportunity to connect with CRYJ participants in a non-judgmental setting. It is not a treatment program, nor does it stem from a single philosophy of substance abuse. Through the Drug & Alcohol process youth have the opportunity to take accountability for their offense, the harms caused by their actions and the impacts on themselves and others. The workshop also incorporates many best practice and nationally regarded curriculum elements that highlight the health and community impacts of drugs and alcohol use among youth.
- Community Focus Groups & Workshops: We work with a host of community partners and volunteers who spend time each month with our youth participants. Volunteers offer workshops and classes including yoga, knitting, poetry writing, art, and community education.
Success Stories & Impact
Over the past five years, CRYJ has served more than 1500 youth.
- Less than 13% go on to commit additional offenses or have further engagement with the justice system
- 75% reported an increase in self-esteem; 79% felt that they developed skills that others would value; and 65% felt more connected to their community within the first month of programming.
- Since 2009, Flathead County has witnessed a 60% decrease in the number of youth who go on to reoffend, which has translated to a 28% decrease in the number of youth who are sent out of area to detention or treatment and a 75% reduction in the amount of state funding spend on juvenile delinquency