In response to the article “‘Perfect storm’ leads to surge in juvenile crime” posted Aug. 12, it feels important to identify the fact restorative justice – and the associated work of restorative practices – offers an antidote for a culture struggling to reckon with disconnect and foundering systems.

The Restorative Justice Project – Maine has been facilitating responses to crime in Knox County since 2005. In the past year, we accepted 15 local juvenile referrals. Of these, two parties opted not to engage; all others resulted in successful completion and an associated reduction of charge / sanction from the legal system.

We know that responding to juvenile crime in restorative ways is not enough.

Often, those causing harm to others are the very ones with a significant history of having been harmed themselves. Growing up locally, I had strong intuition around who was struggling – with a sense of inclusion or identity, with difficult behaviors, with an inability to access basic needs. Now those same peers are living in difficult or dangerous circumstances, or are incarcerated or deceased – by overdose or suicide. The phrase comes to mind: if it is predictable, it is preventable.

In the words of Leonard A. Sipes, Jr.: “Governments do not control crime, communities do; there is little the justice system can do to keep someone from engaging in crime… only communities can do that.” It is crucial to our collective well-being that we develop practices for coming together, for checking in, for settling our agitated nervous systems and exercising self-care and group care. While this may seem inconsequential or starry-eyed, there is good data to suggest humans are better able to self-regulate and make smart decisions when we feel like we matter and are supported and understood.

Thus, Restorative Justice Project is launching a Community Justice Hub in Knox County.

I sincerely hope that we will interpret the surge in juvenile crime as a signal flare – individuals in need of resources, attention, respect, meaningful connection – and show up for the youth of Knox County and those they have harmed, as a community.

FMI: www.rjpmidcoast.org.

First, basic definitions: restorative justice (RJ) is a facilitated, collaborative process responding to crime and wrong-doing by inviting those centrally affected to come together to share how they were affected and make decisions around how to make things as right as possible. This involves crafting specific, actionable agreements between the person(s) who caused harm and those who were affected. Of the agreements set, 92% are completed to the satisfaction of those who made them.

Restorative practices is an umbrella term including prevention, intervention and reintegration practices organized around values of voice, choice and dignity for all. Cultivating proactive, relational ways of being together, caring for each other and listening to each other is essential – especially to those in our community who are most vulnerable to being harmed or causing harm due to social inequities such as trauma, poverty, substance use or mental health challenges.

Sarah Mattox

Restorative Justice Project – Maine

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