UMass Boston Chancellor J. Keith Motley joined Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley, McCormack Graduate School Dean David W. Cash, and representatives from five community youth organizations Friday to sign a memorandum of understanding to create the Juvenile Alternative Resolution Program, an initiative for juvenile offenders that uses restorative justice. The pilot project is the first of its kind in Massachusetts.
“Restorative justice can serve as a tool for helping our young people understand the consequences of their actions while shifting their focus to brighter futures,” Motley said.
As part of the program, juvenile offenders who have been screened by the courts will be connected to the community partners that signed the MOU: the Changing Tracks Initiative; the Robert F. Kennedy Children’s Action Corps; MissionSAFE; SMART TEAM, a division of the Justice Resource Institute (JRI); and the Salvation Army Ray and Joan Kroc Community Center. Those organizations will connect the youth with mentors and other resources, such as substance-abuse counseling. The goal is to prevent repeat offenses and the ripple effect that a criminal record has on future educational opportunities, jobs, and housing.
“We want a young person’s first encounter with the criminal justice system to be their last. We want to provide meaningful intervention when a young person is at risk of committing a more serious offense,” Conley said. “Historically, juvenile diversion programs have been geared toward first-time offenders. JAR will accept a much greater range of cases. It will assess their specific backgrounds, identify their individual needs, and help them achieve specific goals – not just avoiding prosecution, but having a net-positive effect on their lives, victims’ satisfaction, and the community as a whole.”
A key component of the restorative justice model is that it brings offenders and victims face to face. Daria Lyman, a senior fellow in the McCormack Graduate School’s Center for Peace, Democracy, and Development who played a key role in bringing the MOU to fruition, spoke about why it works.
“It’s the old-fashioned community-based justice. If you rob the shopkeeper, you work for him for free until you pay him back. If you hurt someone, you face them, you apologize. So what we do is we hold a young person accountable. One participant recently told me, ‘Before this, I never put a face to my victims,’” Lyman said.
The McCormack Graduate School and the Center for Peace, Democracy, and Development will be measuring and evaluating the effectiveness of the pilot program, which could expand.
“In addition to opening doors for our faculty and fellows to collaborate with the DA’s office, this effort provides a wonderful opportunity for our students to serve the city, while at the same time they gain fantastic experience in an exciting and rising field,” Cash said.
Jumaane Kendrick is the program director of Changing Tracks Initiative, a community diversion program that seeks to keep youth of color from being expelled or incarcerated. Kendrick knows first-hand what it’s like to be part of that system – he says he doesn’t know where he’d be today if he hadn’t received support when he was a juvenile offender.
“We’re really going to be able to make a dent in some of the lives of these young people, and we’re going to see it very quickly across the city,” Kendrick said.
Nikki Flionis is the executive director of MissionSAFE, a small program that works with high-risk youth.
“Suddenly you’re branded by the courts, you have a criminal record, and it goes inside. And people maybe all your life have been telling you that, and now it’s been confirmed,” Flionis said. “So I see this as one more link out of the school-to-prison pipeline, of allowing us all publicly and formally and visibly to grow together toward this end, and it’s going to make a huge difference in helping the youth that we work with thrive and the youth that we’re going to work with thrive.”
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