We incarcerate too many youth and our government is broke

We incarcerate too many youth and our government is broke—we’ve heard both laments lately in the news. The cry goes up for an effective way to deal with youthful offenders—a way that is cost effective, proven, humane, and rehabilitative. The answer is here: Restorative Justice.

Restorative Justice is an age-old way of dealing with infractions upon societal norms. It involves those who have been wronged, and allows them to have a say in the outcome. It holds the perpetrator directly responsible for the wrong-doing, and seeks to reintegrate him or her into the community. It is an alternative to incarceration that reduces recidivism and costs, and provides better emotional outcomes for victims and offenders. It involves a face-to-face meeting between the parties to get answers and provide accountability. Meetings are facilitated by an experienced mediator.

RESTORE, Inc, formerly the Victim-Offender Mediation Program, has offered this service in southeastern South Dakota for nearly 20 years.  The program is underutilized, however, and is ready to step in today to alleviate budget and other problems associated with nonviolent juvenile offenders.  Restorative Justice programs have been used across the United States for over 25 years, but are based in indigenous practices that have been in use for thousands of years.  Dozens of studies exist to prove their effectiveness. In South Dakota, the Center for Restorative Justice in Rapid City was created under the leadership of Judge Merton B. Tice, Jr. in 1997, and mediates many cases each year. I helped set up programs in Indiana, New Hampshire, and Michigan that have been in operation for decades. As a consultant to the National Institute of Corrections, I have evaluated the effectiveness of such programs and have published many articles in the field.  I know it works.

It’s time for South Dakota to stop thinking about punishment only in terms of jail and prison.  Thinking about crime through the lens of restorative justice translates into a philosophy of  making things right—for the victim, the offender, and the community as a whole. RESTORE is ready to put Restorative Justice to work. The question is, is South Dakota ready for a better approach?


Encountering Forgiveness Workshop

Forgiveness Workshop at University of Sioux Falls

The University of Sioux Falls presents “Encountering Forgiveness,” a workshop led by Dr. John Gehm, on April 15-16.  Through exploratory exercises and skill building, participants will learn to  apply “practical forgiveness”—in its spiritual, ethical, psychological, and interpersonal dimensions.  Workshop hours are Friday from 4:30 p.m.-9:30 p.m. and Saturday from 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.  Cost is $120 for credit, and $40 for non credit.  Call 331-6781 to register.  Or call John Gehm at 338-6020 for more information

Restorative Justice program in Rapid City is featured

In a legal system that focuses on crime as an offense against the state – not an individual – the voices of crime victims are frequently unheard, according to Mark Umbreit, founder of the Center for Restorative Justice & Peacemaking at the University of Minnesota’s School of Social Work.

Umbreit was in Rapid City recently to train case leaders for the local Center for Restorative Justice.

“Conflict is endless,” said Umbreit, who has witnessed the evolution of Restorative Justice over the past four decades as it has emerged as an internationally accepted way of resolving conflict by creating a situation in which those who cause injury can meet the injured and learn firsthand the harm they have caused.

To read the full article, click here.

Challenging the status quo remains a risky business

Journalism Professor Who Helped Free 5 Innocent Men from Death Roll Has Been Sacked | Civil Liberties | AlterNet.

Burning Bridges

Bucks County, Pennsylvania

Information Night

A restorative justice information night will be held on Thursday, March 17 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. in meeting room A at the downtown public library in Sioux Falls.

The event will open at 6:30 with a 35-minute documentary film shown at 7:00. The film, “Burning Bridges,” will be followed by a question and answer time with refreshments.

Burning Bridges recounts the aftermath of the arson of an historic wooden covered bridge by six local young men in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. The focus is on the restorative conference that dealt with the shock and outrage of the community and how the young men were held accountable, as well as the fear and grief experienced by the perpetrators and their families in this small community.

The film provides an excellent introduction to restorative justice, which seeks to repair the harm done to victims of crime and hold offenders accountable in a meaningful, rehabilitative way. Restorative justice can also be used to resolve disputes in schools, churches, businesses, neighborhoods, and families. Information will be available on upcoming mediation workshop opportunities.

The event is sponsored by RESTORE, Inc., a non-profit organization which provides mediation services in southeastern South Dakota. For details, call (605) 338-6020 or email Restore-SD@sio.midco.net

Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation

This is news from Connecticut, a state where, as in Illinois, the movement to abolish state homicide is gathering momentum. One thing that always catches my attention is the MVFR tagline.   Like restorative justice, you can never ‘undo’ what has happened but you can decide how you want to live afterwards.

Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation
Reconciliation means accepting that you cannot undo the murder but you can decide how you want to live afterwards.

March 8, 2011
I hope you got a chance to see some of the daylong hearing in Connecticut yesterday. Several victims’ family members including Gail Canzano, Elizabeth Brancato and Walt Everett testified. As soon as they post the archived video and transcripts, I’ll send out a link. In the meantime, there was lots of testimony about the number of folks in Connecticut who support the death penalty based on polling. There is a newspaper poll today in the [Hartford] Courant that we can weigh in on.    See: Courant poll and vote.
Beth Wood

It’s Time For Our Nation To Be Smart on Crime Smart on Crime

Recommendations for the Administration and Congress provides the 112th Congress and the Obama administration with analysis of the problems plaguing our state and federal criminal justice systems and a series of recommendations to address these failures. The report examines the entire criminal justice system, from the creation of new criminal laws to ex-offenders’ reentry into communities after serving their sentences.  Recommendations range from helping to restore and empower victims to identifying ways to protect the rights of the accused. Due to the undeniable human costs and the overwhelming fiscal costs, Americans from diverse political perspectives–particularly professionals with experience in all aspects of the criminal justice system–recognize that the system fails too many, costs too much, and helps too few. Smart on Crime provides the most promising recommendations for resolving our nation’s criminal justice crisis.  You can read or download the full report here.

It is worth noting how many of the recommendations are restorative.