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The Jeanette Community Justice Project.

The Jeanette Community Justice Project grew out of a decision by the Westmoreland County Juvenile Probation Balanced and Restorative Justice Team’s Public Relations Sub-Committee to implement the philosophy of Balanced and Restorative Justice (BARJ) in a single community. Marjorie Bing Stanislaw, the committee chairperson, provides this description of their efforts.
In the fall of 2001 the Westmoreland County Juvenile Probation Balanced and Restorative Justice Team’s Public Relations Sub-Committee, in addition to their other duties, decided to pick a single community in the county, and bring the philosophy (and hopefully practices) of Balanced and Restorative Justice (BARJ) to that particular community. 

The committee chose the City of Jeannette as their target. This selection was based on several different factors, including

  • population (10,000 people), 

  • the school systems were integral to the city and did not bleed over into the township

  • the presence of 2 hospitals, a newspaper, some industry and a large faith community.  

Also, the city was one of the smaller cities in the county but was centrally located within the borders of the county.  To help matters, the district justice and the committee chair were both residents of Jeannette. 

During the first year of the project (September 2001-September 2002) the committee spent a large portion of its time on relationship building and recruiting members for the committee, and media relations.  Recruited during that period were:  A small newspaper publisher, the Director of Westmoreland Youth Excel-- Jeannette Asset Builders (which promotes the 40 Developmental Assets), a retired vice-president from a local corporation who was actively volunteering with Youth Excel, and the Social Services Director from one of the local hospitals.  The group also researched community justice and discussed how to reach out to the City’s residents. 

In the second year of the project, the local district justice, a member of the subcommittee, suggested that a specific neighborhood be targeted and that some type of  “community meeting” be scheduled, where the neighborhood could be engaged in discussion about balanced and restorative justice.  This was done with the local library agreeing to let the subcommittee have the meeting at that facility. 

As a meeting agenda was planned, the subcommittee chair developed the following goals: 

Ø      To begin to educate the community about Balanced and Restorative Justice

Ø    To make all community members aware that Jeannette has an active Youth Commission (youth aid panel).

Ø   To begin to expand on the resources that could be built through a larger Youth Commission.  

Ø   To begin to make citizens aware that they can “take back” their communities by volunteering, mentoring, and just getting to know the youth in their neighborhoods.

Ø   To be able to recruit citizens for a Juvenile Advisory Board.

Ø   To begin the process of data collection to see how the Juvenile Justice System is perceived by the community and what can be done better

Ø   To be able to take this model and use it in other communities to promote the above. 

The agenda of the evening included opening remarks from the local district justice and the committee chair, both residents of the city, the showing of the Commonwealth’s video on Balanced and Restorative Justice, the introduction of the Youth Commission Chairperson with a brief explanation of  duties, and brief presentations by the Asset Developers, and the mental health association.  Attendees were given a short questionnaire to complete, with the meeting being followed by informal discussion and refreshments.

This community meeting had immediate results for the community.  First, someone, having heard about content of the meeting, telephoned the probation officer in the area and provided information the department had been trying to obtain. This included the telephone number of a home where juveniles had been 'hiding out' during school hours. This resulted in one of the juveniles being returned to school that day. Secondly, the subcommittee realized the need to gather data from a broader spectrum of people in order to begin to be able to gauge where it was with the defined goals, and where it  wanted to go.  

With the establishment of a firm partnership between all of the agencies and people involved, the committee decided that focus groups were the best way to proceed. During these focus groups, committee members could be engaged about Balanced and Restorative Justice, as well as how the 40 Developmental Assets can be effective in working with children and also what Mental Health Association services are available for youngsters and communities.

One of the committee members, a retired corporate vice president, was skilled in focus groups and volunteered his time and services in both teaching the other members how to conduct focus groups and facilitating many of the groups.  Groups included the Jeannette PTO, the Jeannette Churches, Senior Citizens, the police department, probation officers who had clientele in the city, the original neighborhood, and juvenile’s who were currently on probation and resided within the city. 

The subcommittee has met twice with the minsterium and hopes to continue meeting with them. Also the ministerium's help has been solicited in a community volunteer project.  Overall, the committee felt the ministerium had to be a vital part of any community action that was taken; because of this belief, the chairperson contacted the Women’s’ Missionary Union for resource material on engaging the faith community and ironically found out that their mission for 2 years has been Restorative Justice and their motto “Act justly, love mercy and walk humbly…”[i] 

The focus group conducted with the juveniles currently on probation proved to be extremely productive.  The youngsters were asked if they knew what community service was, and were challenged to name a project that they would like to see done for their community.  Unanimously, they reported that the South Sixth Street (Charles Graham) Playground needed to be “fixed up.”  When asked if they would be willing to help out on this project, all the juveniles agreed.

On June 21st of 2003, the subcommittee (which by this point had changed its name to the Community and Media Relations Subcommittee) co-sponsored, with the churches, a “Community Volunteer Clean-up Day” at the Charles E. Graham South Sixth Street Playground (and, incidentally, recruited the City’s Recreation Director to become a team member).  Donations of supplies for the playground were solicited.  The Salvation Army sent their canteen truck and volunteers to staff it.  This enabled the group to have a power source, as well as a place to serve warm food. The Cross of Christ Church, located in the neighborhood, opened their facility for water and restrooms.  The community really stepped to the plate, and on the day of the event over 50 volunteers (both adults and children, as well as residents of the local group home) showed up in the pouring rain to revitalize the playground.  Grass was mowed, trees trimmed, flowers planted, the building and equipment painted, and the fence and basketball hoops were repaired. 

Due to this event, a Juvenile Advisory Board is being established.  The subcommittee chairperson has met with youth from the neighborhood and the churches to begin setting up projects at the playground and to help them take ownership for their playgrounds.  The Recreation Director has agreed to work with the Advisory Board to help formulate projects in the city.  One of the suggestions for fund raising will be to put aside a certain percentage of funds to go into a “Victim Restoration Fund” to be used by the local Youth Commission.   

Presently, there is one more focus group to be conducted and it will be with the business community.  Also, a training by the Jeannette Asset Builders and the BARJ Team in regard to the Developmental Assets is being facilitated for the teachers in August of 2003. 

After the data is compiled from all the focus groups, the committee plans to report the results back to the various groups and begin the task of deciding the next step, as well as to continue overseeing the Juvenile Advisory Board.    

[i] Micah 6:8, “To act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.,”  Women’s Devotional Bible 2, p. 1016, 1995 Zondervan Corporation.

 

September 2003

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