Keep Massachusetts Youth Out of Court & In School

by Our Restorative Justice (formerly Juvenile Court Restorative Justice Diversion)
Keep Massachusetts Youth Out of Court & In School
Keep Massachusetts Youth Out of Court & In School
Keep Massachusetts Youth Out of Court & In School
Keep Massachusetts Youth Out of Court & In School
Keep Massachusetts Youth Out of Court & In School
Keep Massachusetts Youth Out of Court & In School

Dear Donor,

Imagine a soft-spoken young girl with no history of negative behavior in school, who had never harmed or hurt anyone, being taken out of school one day in handcuffs by the police. The cause? She had lost control of her emotions and been yelling at those around her for no clear reason. This is the type of incident that OurRJ deals with on a regular basis.

In this case, given her total lack of any prior misbehavior, this young woman, let’s call her Maria Elena, was referred to OurRJ. She participated in the OurRJ process, choosing her grandmother, father, and the school dean as Circle participants. During pre-Circle prep, OurRJ’s program manager  asked if something was bothering her that she needed to express. She said it was the third anniversary of her mother’s suicide. This young woman at the age of 13, found her mother dead in the bathtub.

Once Maria Elena was able to share her pain in Circle, have it acknowledged, it provided a starting point for healing. What also came out of the Circle process was the acknowledgment that no one at the school had taken the time to talk with her, to listen and find out what had precipitated such an outcry. A reparative agreement was developed that if Maria Elena were to feel this way again, she would immediately ask to see the counselor or social worker at school. It also included meeting with the counselor once a week for help with this and any other related issues, and the school agreed to make these forms of assistance possible. She also wanted to apologize to her teacher, which was written into the agreement and signed by all parties.

Thanks to your support, more young people like Maria Elena are still in school. Without the possibility of the restorative justice alternative approach, Maria Elena and so many others would end up in the juvenile justice systems with a criminal record for life.

Sincerely,

Your Friends at Our Restorative Justice

P.S. We will have exciting developments in the coming year! If you want to continue supporting restorative justice programming, keep a look out for our announcement about a new initiative to be piloted in 2018!

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Enlarged Circle Photo
Enlarged Circle Photo

Dear Donor,

We are happy to report that our restorative programs and advocacy in the community continues to gain momentum! OurRJ staff works closely with the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office (MDAO) to accept case referrals to offer youth an alternative to entering the Juvenile Court System. We’ve had a very productive three months! Thanks to your generous support we made the following progress in the communities we serve:

  • Held 13 separate circles impacting 30 people
  • Closed 3 cases who successfully completed their restorative programs
  • Accepted 3 new case referrals delinquency diversion from the MDAO
  • Continued restorative work training with 1 exiting case

On the legislative front, our staff has worked tirelessly advocating for effective restorative justice legislation alongside our partners at the Restorative Justice Coalition of Massachusetts. OurRJ Executive Director Susan Maze-Rothstein has worked closely with the Massachusetts Restorative Justice Coalition on legislation.  This year the Restorative Justice Bill has been incorporated into the Omnibus Crime Bill adding momentum in the push for criminal justice reform.

Thank you for continued support that permits OurRJ to provide marginalized youth and young adults with an alternative approach to justice that disrupts the school to prison pipeline. By giving young people a voice, and coalescing systems of support around them, we can create institutions in which all young people thrive in 2018!

Sincerely,

Your Friends at Our Restorative Justice

p.s. We will have exciting developments in the coming year! If you want to continue supporting restorative justice programming, keep a look out for our announcement about a new initiative to be piloted in 2018!

Links:

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Dear Donor,

The last three months have been an exciting time for justice reform in the Commonwealth! With greater legislative momentum around restorative justice than ever before, OurRJ has been hard at work in Greater Lowell. But we could not do this work without your support! Thanks to you, we have:

  • Accepted 1 new delinquency diversion referral
  • Led 4 restorative circles, impacting 25 new individuals
  • Successfully closed another delinquency case using our restorative justice model

OurRJ's developmentally-responsive, high support, high accountability restorative model provides youth and the supportive adults in their lives with skills for healing and growth. Just as importantly, circles provide a non-hierarchical space for families to interact with systems, institutions, and service providers, providing an opportunity for agency in developing long-term plans.

Your support is allowing us to work with young people like James. When James was caught in a car that had been reported stolen, he was referred to OurRJ instead of participating in a traditional court process. Although initially ambivalent about participating in a restorative justice process, it quickly became clear that at the root of that indifference was the fact that James was struggling in school and was hesitant to trust yet another new group of adults.

Through the circle process, OurRJ was able to help support James as he made the transition from his old high school to a new alternative school, including meeting in circle with faculty and staff from his new school. A new reparative agreement was developed, which included steps to ensure success in school. To the surprise of many of the adults in his life, James almost immediately began thriving in his new school and took responsibility for his actions involving the car.

OurRJ's Program Manager Eli Plenk noted the growth in James after a few months of participating in the restorative process. "There was a real shift in him. It was clear to everyone that James was more engaged, happier, and willing to play an active role in the restorative process. James committed to taking school seriously and he did."

Plenk went on to state how, "...the process has helped demonstrate to James that there are people that care about him, who want him to be successful. The restorative process also enabled his family to find a new school environment that was a better fit for James.

Now more than ever, Massachusetts must stand as a national leader in alternatives to punitive justice. A donation to OurRJ not only helps keep youth in school and out of court, but also supports efforts to bring the transformative power of restorative justice to more communities in the Commonwealth. On behalf of young people like James, OurRJ is deeply appreciative of your support.

Sincerely,

The OurRJ Team

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Beautiful Lowell community in which OurRJ works
Beautiful Lowell community in which OurRJ works

Dear Donor,

OurRJ is proud to share another story with you about a young person who's life you helped change through your support of our transformative restorative justice efforts!

Amari was referred to OurRJ after being arrested, following a physical altercation that occurred in her school. After receiving the referral, OurRJ's program staff immediately began the preparation process for the restorative justice circle, including meeting with Amari and her mother, as well as the impacted young person and her family, to explore what issues would need to be addressed in circle.

What emerged next in the circle is a powerful illustration of why OurRJ believes so strongly in restorative justice as a truly transformative, developmentally responsive, and healing antidote to the damage wrought on youth and communities by the school to prison pipeline.

Despite the physical and emotional harm that had been done to the young woman assaulted by Amari, the young woman's mother made it clear from the beginning of the circle that she did not want to simply "punish" Amari. All parents in the circle recognized the irreparable damage that can occur as a result of court involvement, and though angry about what had been done to her daughter, the young woman's mother was adamant that, "I don't want to ruin kids lives, I just wanted to solve the problem."

Even more importantly, OurRJ's program staff witnessed Amari and the impact young woman quickly move from anger to a powerful display of honesty and empathy. After hearing the impact her actions had on her classmate, Amari revealed that she too had been a victim of bullying in the past, a powerful moment in whcih the two young women recognized their shared experiences.

Amari apologized for her actions, stating, "I don't want to ever make someone feel the way that I did when I was being bullied."

In addition to the acknowledgement of harm that Amari took responsibility for, a number of other important outcomes occurred as a result of the circle. Both both Amari's mother and the mother of the impacted young woman agreed that the real issue was in how the school and the police handled the situtation, including a total lack of communication and transparency with both parents. Importantly, two school guidance counselors present in the circle readily agreed, admitting that they had not done enough to proactively address conflict. During the circle, the two counselors committed to doing more on behalf of the school. Amari also agreed to collaboratively drafted Reparative Agreement terms, which will hold her accountable and allow her to repair the harm she caused her classmate, without being forced to acquire a life-altering criminal record.

Ultimately, both Amari's mother and the impacted young woman's mother agreed that the process allowed the two families to get to the root of problem and come up with empowering solutions, that did not involve futher court involvement

Now more than ever, Massachusetts must stand as a national leader in alternatives to punitive justice. On behalf of the young people with whom we work, thank you for your support of OurRJ's efforts to bring the transformative power of restorative justice to more communities in the Commonwealth!

Sincerely,

The OurRJ Team 

P.S. Looking for a more sustainable way to support OurRJ? Become a monthly recurring donor to either of OurRJ's projects between June 5 and June 9th and see your first month's donation receive a 100% match! And don't forget to spread the word about OurRJ's work, by sharing our Project Pages on social media using the feature below!

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A Restorative Justice Circle In Progress
A Restorative Justice Circle In Progress

Dear donors,

We are excited to share a story with you about an OurRJ participant your donation helped support!

At just 12, Jade was arrested outside of her home. Throughout her 12 years, Jade had experienced significant trauma and had cycled through the foster care system for around 5 years until being adopted at 7. When Jade entered a dispute police were having with someone in her neighborhood, officers restrained Jade. This action triggered her trauma-related anxiety, and Jade responded by struggling against the police. They arrested her.

According to Program Planner Mariam Levy, upon first meeting Jade and discussing the possibility of sitting in a circle with the police who arrested her, Jade seemed resistant. When asked if there was anything she would have done differently the day of her arrest, Jade's response was a firm, "No." 

Yet by the end of the restorative justice process, all who had participated in the circles reported a profound sense of resolution and transformation. The lead police officer in the case in particular expressed her gratitude for the process. Though initially skeptical about the circle process, the officer remarked after completing the circle, "This is not the same kid."

According to Mariam, the officer told Jade, "I am so impressed with you, this is like a whole different person I’m seeing." As the group discussed the terms of Jade's Reparation Agreement, the police officer said, "I’d really like to keep in touch with you and check in with you every week."

Jade's response: "Can we make it twice a week?"

Jade is now working on completing the terms of her Reparation Agreement and her teachers report that she has been active and engaged in school. Jade has is even serving as a peer leader, helping her school counselor lead emotional intelligence classes and modeling the skills she learned during the restorative justice circle process.

According to Mariam, "Seeing Jade in the role of leader and as a proud student, instead of a shamed and punished child, is really incredible."

Thanks to you, OurRJ will be able to provide this transformational experience to more young people, their families, and community members. Your support is helping to usher in a major paradigm shift in Massachusetts around how we address youth offending, school discipline, and family conflict. On behalf of our young people, thank you for your generous contribution.

Sincerely,

Our Restorative Justice

P.S. Didn't get a chance to donate to OurRJ's last Global Giving campaign? Consider supporting our upcoming March Accelerator campaign! This campaign will go towards supporting OurRJ's innovative new case for Children Requiring Assistance (CRA) cases, noncriminal status offense cases that often emerge out of complex school and family conflicts. Head over to our new project page and between now and the campaign's kick off on March 1, spread the word on social media!

OurRJ advocating for justice reform in the state
OurRJ advocating for justice reform in the state

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Organization Information

Our Restorative Justice (formerly Juvenile Court Restorative Justice Diversion)

Location: Lowell, MA - USA
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @Our_RJ
Our Restorative Justice (formerly Juvenile Court Restorative Justice Diversion)
Carmella Cavallaro
Project Leader:
Carmella Cavallaro
Lowell, MA United States

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