Restorative justice workers hope to head off juvenile crime
Dozens of people turned out for a community forum on restorative justice at the Mountain View Library Thursday night.
The State of Alaska is searching for creative solutions to lower crimes in neighborhoods and reduce the amount of people that go to jail, in a push to reduce state incarceration costs based on criminal-reform reforms Senate Bill 91 and Senate Bill 54.
"That's what SB 91 and SB 54 are meant to do," said Partners Reentry Center Director Cathleen Mclaughlin. "Ninety-five percent of the people in jail or prison right now will be released. What's going to happen to them when they are? Where are they going to turn and who is going to help them to keep from doing what they did before?'
One of SB 91's strategies is the inclusion of more funds for case managers to reduce recidivism. Restorative justice programs -- which bring victims and offenders together to repair the harms caused by crime -- are one way to do that.
"We can help anyone who wants to follow the rules of our program," Mclaughlin said. "What people don't realize and what I am trying to make clear to the mayor, is we don't have a shortage of beds for the homeless. We have more beds then people we've counted as homeless. Help is out there. The majority of crimes are coming from our younger people. It's not that they are stealing to be destructive; they're on drugs and trying to fill that void."
Starting in schools, with teaching students to be accountable for their actions, could go a long way in changing how students look at themselves.
"It takes a little bit of time for students to get used to it," said restorative practices trainer Kerri Berkowitz. "It really is a different way of providing how we do things. What we find is that once they experience it, they ask for it. They want to get together and have a voice. Children want to resolve their challenges, they don't want to see things escalate."
All too often, however, instead of voicing what happened during school disciplinary procedures, students are sent home -- and left with the feeling that they don't matter.
"Once they see the process and get to see, 'Oh, I can be heard, I can sit, I can listen and get to know other students in my class I didn't know,' the students really start to enjoy the process," Berkowitz said. "The student feels heard and empowered."
Programs in schools and the community can start the process, but it may come down to the individual and the parents.
"Once I started taking accountability for my own actions, I really started seeing a change in my son," said parent Rey Soto-Lopez. "I made a lot of bad decisions, I didn't have a father around, I longed for my father even though he made his own bad choices. It started the whole cycle. Once I decided to change that, everything in my life started to improve. I saw a change in myself, my life and my 17-year-old son."