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Restorative Justice in New Orleans.

Turning Point Partners is a restorative justice initiative in New Orleans, Louisiana. The group, led by Lou Furman and Jean Handley, has developed programs for the youth court, juvenile institutions, and a local charter school. Turning Point Partners sees restorative justice as a tool for teaching the skills and values needed for creating healthy and safe communities. This article about their program below was written by Lou Furman.

Turning Point Partners is a leading practitioner of Restorative Justice in Greater New Orleans. The purpose of Turning Point Partners is to model and teach those skills and values that create healthy, secure communities.  We use restorative philosophy and practices that promote justice for individuals, families, communities, and institutions. Currently, we facilitate Restorative Justice initiatives in juvenile correctional facilities, the courts, and schools.

Bridge City Correctional Center for Youth

Recently, Turning Point Partners completed a year long program at Bridge City Correctional Center for Youth.  The initiative focused on developing skills in reflection, communication, and empathy.  Components of the initiative included   

  • Community Building Circles

  • Victim Impact Panels and Victim Awareness Classes

  • Responsibility and Accountability

  • Reentry Conferences

Community Building Circles, the foundation of our work, are experiential workshops that build authentic community – a safe place for risk taking and shared leadership.  This aspect of the initiative consists of a 3 day training to develop communication and expressive skills.  A prime focus of this training is to establish respect and discipline within the group.  Once this community of respect and trust is developed, Turning Point staff can address the issues of responsibility and empathy through victim impact programs.

Victim Impact Panels provide a forum for crime victims to tell the incarcerated youth how crime has impacted their lives and the lives of their families, friends, and neighbors.  Victim Awareness Classes promote understanding of the harm that the youth has experienced as well as the harm they have done to others by their behaviors. Recognizing that they have been victimized is an important element of the process.  The purpose is not to condone their delinquent behaviors, but to begin a process by which they can know that they have caused similar pain in others.  These explorations facilitate development of empathy – an emotion often dormant in these young men.

While accepting harm done is a critical component of the initiative, taking responsibility for that harm is equally important for healing to take place.  Responsibility leads to accountability: a willingness to make restitution to the victim and to the community.  Restitution provides the victim with concrete acknowledgement that the person who committed the harm feels remorse – an expression often necessary for the healing to begin for the victim and the person who caused the harm.  

Reentry Conferences bring together the youth, his family, and other supporting members of the community to determine his needs and to design a plan that will facilitate his successful reintegration.  Members of the community are involved in the reentry conferences because they, too, have a responsibility in the reintegration of both the youth and the person harmed.  Community members become monitors of the agreement developed in the conference and facilitate obtaining services and support necessary for both the youth and the victim to resume their places in the community as productive and meaningful members of society. 

Orleans Juvenile Court Restorative Justice Initiative

The Orleans Juvenile Court Restorative Justice Initiative seeks to facilitate a process that will help youth transform their thinking and attitude and, thus, keep them from being incarcerated.  Since a young person becoming enmeshed in the prison system significantly increases the likelihood of reoffending, the court initiative focuses on offering alternatives to incarceration.  

Juvenile Court Judge Mark Doherty is referring cases that he believes will benefit from restorative justice practices.  The process provides a forum in which the needs of all stakeholders are considered, including those to whom harm has been done – the victims.  Participation by all parties is voluntary.  The only restriction is that the person who committed the harm must admit to the offense in order to participate. 

Family/Community Group Conferencing is a principal tool used in the courts. This process allows the community of people most impacted by the delinquent behavior to resolve the issues. This community includes

  • the victim
  • the offender
  • the family, friends, and key supporters of both
  • interested members of the community

Turning Point Partners’ trained restorative justice practitioners bring these affected parties together to discuss how they and others have been harmed by the offense and how that harm might be repaired.  All resolutions are reached by consensus of the parties and submitted to Judge Doherty for final disposition. 

The goals of Group Conferencing include:

  1. to provide an opportunity for the victim to be directly involved in the discussion of the offense and in decisions regarding appropriate sanctions to be placed on the youth
  2. to offer the community a participatory role in the healing and restitution process
  3. to increase the youth's awareness of the human impact of his or her behavior and provide an opportunity to take full responsibility for it
  4. to allow both the person who has committed the harm and the person who has been harmed to reconnect to key community support systems.

New Orleans Charter Middle Schools

Since contact with the justice system exacerbates the obstacles confronting the youth as they attempt to become productive citizens, Turning Point Partners is developing initiatives to facilitate responsible and accountable behaviors among youth who have yet to be entangled in the judicial web. 

The pilot initiative with the New Orleans Charter Middle School begins with a series of dialogues with the staff and faculty.  The subjects of these discussions will include issues such as:

  • identifying and defining behaviors that disrupt the learning process
  • searching out the causal relationships underlying the behaviors
  • practices in the school that might foster these behaviors and  techniques now used to deter the behaviors. 

This process will help to recognize the issues confronting the staff, faculty, and students. 

Simulations and trainings will explore the way in which a restorative philosophy and practice may look in the school.  Part of the process will include reviewing the school manual to determine those areas in which restorative practices may be used rather than traditional disciplinary actions. 

The project intends to demonstrate to students that taking responsibility and being accountable for their behaviors will lead to nonviolent and long lasting resolutions. Community Conferences adapted for the school setting and Victim Offender Conferences in which persons doing harm and those who are harmed meet face to face with the aid of a facilitator are two of the Restorative Justice practices that are envisioned for the pilot initiative.

Through these restorative justice initiatives, Turning Point Partners hopes to participate in the transformation of our judicial system from a retributive, punitive justice to a restorative, healing justice.  Turning Point envisions that these practices will have impact beyond the justice system; that restorative justice will provide a means to significantly reduce the inequalities in our culture.  Youth in the initiatives would become productive, contributing members of their communities instead of an economic drain and play a role in alleviating poverty and reinvigorating their communities.  While this objective is primarily an economic benchmark, its true value is human reparation and healing.  The process in New Orleans will take generations.  However, the concepts of restorative justice are laying a foundation now for the eventual development of healthy, secure community.

Contact Turning Point Partners:

1137 Barrone St.

New Orleans, LA 70113

504-620-5138

jean@turningpointpartners.com

www.turningpointpartners.com

 

By Lou Furman

July 2002



 

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