The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, June 3, 2005


High marks for the Carlisle Restorative Justice Circle

The Carlisle Restorative Justice Circle is approaching its third year, and it is making a difference. The Circle has overseen three cases involving nine youths and their families to date, and it receives high marks by all who have experienced it firsthand. Circle participants have expressed gratitude for the transforming experience, for the countless hours put forth by trained volunteers, police and educators, and for the Circle itself.

The CRJ Circle is a grassroots community response to crime for many first-time youth offenders. The Circle came to Carlisle through the cooperative efforts of Police Chief David Galvin and interested community members. Restorative justice is an alternative framework for thinking about crime. Crime is wrongdoing, and wrongdoing violates people and relationships. Violation creates obligation, and the central obligation for wrongdoing is to right the wrong. While restorative justice starts with the victim, community members who have experienced the Circle firsthand understand that it does more than address victim needs. It builds and strengthens the community.

How does the Circle work?

To give an example: if a youth damaged a homeowner's mailbox or public property, he/she would customarily be turned over to the Juvenile Justice System. Communities with Circles in place have another option. If a case is deemed appropriate by local law enforcement and both the victim and youth involved agree to meet in the Circle, the case can be diverted from the court to the Circle. Both the homeowner (victim) and the youth are assigned their own facilitators. These trained mentor/ advocates will prepare, support and guide them through the entire Circle process. In addition to the victim, youth and their facilitators, the youth's parents, trained community participants, a police officer and the two Circle "Keepers" who run the circle, are present.

Once the Circle is convened, the youth is asked to describe the incident and the events that led up to it. They are asked to describe what they were feeling at the time, and how they feel about the incident now. The homeowner has an opportunity to hear the account, and share how the crime (smashed mailbox) has impacted their lives. Everyone listens, asks questions, processes concerns and dispels fears in a safe and confidential environment. Youths begin to understand the impact of their actions as the process unfolds. They come to realize its rippling effect on individuals, families, whole neighborhoods, law enforcement and the entire community.

The talking piece

The Circle Keepers use a talking piece to manage the circle. The Carlisle talking piece is a local stone with the word, "courage" painted on it. This was a carefully selected word that reflects the courage on the part of many, but most especially the youth who is willing to tell the truth and accept the responsibility for righting the damage he/she has caused. The talking piece travels around the circle. Only the person who is holding the piece has the authority to speak. The others listen and must wait their turns to speak. Youths are encouraged to be accountable and make amends. After an initial discussion, the stone is circulated again. This time, Circle participants offer suggestions to address and correct the damage. In time, a fair and appropriate set of tasks emerges and is agreed upon.

In the case of a damaged mailbox, one of the tasks might include the purchasing of a new mailbox with a youth's own money. If it is age- appropriate, the youth might be asked to install the mailbox or assist with installation. A youth may also be asked to write an apology to the homeowner, or other victim(s) and quite possibly his/her own parents. In addition, it may be suggested that the youth write an in- depth reflection about his/her experience, what he/she learned, and how the youth would handle things differently next time. Circle participants find that reflection fosters personal growth and understanding. When appropriate, the youth may be asked to meet with a police officer to review the laws and legal consequences for breaking such laws. Community service may also be recommended. Community service is not intended to punish but to repair or compensate for damages. In addition, it teaches kids appreciation for what things cost and what it takes to fix, maintain or replace something. Once the Circle reaches consensus, each person signs the contract and a Closing Circle is scheduled a few months later, providing time for the youth to complete the tasks.

The Closing Circle

The Closing Circle is held once all tasks have been successfully completed. The homeowners/victims are asked if they are satisfied with the outcome. At that point a victim might ask the youth to talk about what he/she has learned. Stories of success and growth, struggle and even humor are shared. Perseverance and success are acknowledged with affirmation. Those who participate often report that the Circle process surpasses expectation. Circles generally end with heads held high, beaming smiles, and affirming handshakes that say, "Welcome back, neighbor." The Circle experience not only allows victims and participants to see the youth in a new light, it enables our youth to experience themselves and their community in a new way.

Restorative justice practices like the Restorative Justice Circle are sprouting up in communities around the country and the globe. The concepts reflect the peace-keeping ways of indigenous cultures in North America, New Zealand and Australia. Since 1989, New Zealand has made restorative justice the center of its entire juvenile justice system. England and Canada are close behind.

Carlisle thanks the Concord police chief and the Concord Restorative Circle for helping us get started. Concord was the first community to initiate and implement restorative justice in this part of the state, and we adapted their highly researched model for Carlisle. Concord and Carlisle continue to work together with their police departments to train community members and develop new models to address issues like underage drinking. The Circle is also grateful to the Concord Community Chest for providing the funding for materials and copying costs. There are many trained and active high school youth involved in our two Circles. We welcome anyone who wishes to learn more. If you or someone you know wishes to become involved, or learn more about restorative justice or the CRJ Circle, please contact Barbara Howland 1-978-369-3113, or Kathy Rubenstein 1-978-369-6947.

2005 The Carlisle Mosquito