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Gangs and Restorative Justice

Gangs pose a special challenge to communities and to law enforcement because of the power they are able to exert over the lives of people within their communities. Can restorative processes work when dealing with individuals from violent, tight-knit organizations? These articles discuss that issue.

Boyes-Watson, Carolyn. Holding the Space: The Journey of Circles at ROCA.
In this report on the period from July 2001 through June 2002, Carolyn Boyes-Watson examines the experiences and lessons of peacemaking circles at Roca, Inc. Roca is a grassroots, multicultural human development and community building organization serving people and communities in eastern Massachusetts. Peacemaking circles are integral to all that Roca does in its work with young people, families, communities, and staff. The report consists of four parts. Part I provides a description of the learning and training activities conducted by Roca, and a thorough overview of the many uses of circles at Roca. Parts II, III, and IV provide a focused discussion of the impact of circles on three areas important to the mission and values of Roca: empowerment of young people; accountability among young people, Roca, and the wider community; and people coming together and building community through circles.
Smith, M. Mediation in Juvenile Justice Settings.
This article describes how mediation has been used in parent/juvenile conflicts, victim-offender restitution agreements, conflict resolution in juvenile corrections facilities, school-based conflicts, and conflicts between rival juvenile gangs. Parent/child mediation offers juvenile court judges and probation officers a family-centered, problem solving approach for dealing with status offenders. Victim-offender mediation is designed to produce agreements that reflect the offender's accountability and responsibility for the victim's loss and suffering by making amends. Mediation in juvenile corrections facilities is intended to resolve conflicts through a problemsolving strategy rather than through punitive disciplinary strategies. School mediation programs help develop new norms for social interaction in the school environment. Students accustomed to resolving conflict through intimidation and violence are trained to resolve conflicts through negotiation and compromise that provides benefits for all parties involved. A relatively new application of mediation in the school setting is the resolution of gang-related disputes. Conflicts between gangs and the school administration and between rival gangs played out in the school setting have been resolved through mediation. Efforts of the New Mexico Center for Dispute Resolution in the aforementioned areas are profiled. Abstract courtesy of National Criminal Justice Reference Service,
CeaseFire: A public health approach to reduce shootings and killings
from Nancy Ritter's article in the NIJ Journal: Researchers found that CeaseFire had a significant positive impact on many of the neighborhoods in which the program was implemented, including a decline of 16 to 28 percent in the num- ber of shootings in four of the seven sites studied.... ...Researchers found that CeaseFire had a significant positive impact on many of the neighborhoods in which the program was implemented, including a decline of 16 to 28 percent in the num- ber of shootings in four of the seven sites studied.... ...Of all of the program’s facets, the most notable involves hiring “violence interrupters.” CeaseFire’s violence interrupters establish a rapport with gang leaders and other at-risk youth, just as outreach workers in a public health campaign contact a target community. Working alone or in pairs, the violence interrupters cruise the streets at night, mediating conflicts between gangs. After a shooting, they immediately offer nonviolent alternatives to gang leaders and a shooting victim’s friends and relatives to try to interrupt the cycle of retaliatory violence. Violence interrupters differ from community organizers or social workers. Many are former gang members who have served time in prison, which gives them greater credibility among current gang members....
Boyes-Watson, Carolyn. Seeds of Change: Using Peacemaking Circles to Build a Village for Every Child
Roca, Inc., a grassroots human development and community organization, has adopted the peacemaking circle as a tool in its relationship building with youth, communities, and formal systems. Circles are a method of communication derived from aboriginal and native traditions. In Massachusetts, the Department of Social Services and the Department of Youth Services are exploring the application of the circle in programming with youth and families. By providing a consistent structure for open, democratic communication, peacemaking circles enhance the formation of positive relationships in families, communities, and systems. The outcome is a stronger community with greater unity across truly diverse participants. This article presents the theory and practice of peacemaking circles, the lessons and challenges of implementing circles in formal organizations, and the potential of the circle to support a strengths-based and community-based approach to child welfare. Author's abstract.
Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations. Alter-Natives to Non-Violence Report: Aboriginal Youth Gangs Exploration--A Community Development Process.
The approach adopted by the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) Alter-Natives to Non-violence Initiative (hereafter called "the Initiative") is rooted in the understanding that behaviors are the observable symptoms of feelings and emotions that are sometimes hidden from our view. The negative behaviors of youth have been assigned recognizable labels that receive prepackaged responses from systems and adults. The processes that were developed to respond to the labeled behaviors do not necessarily adress the underlying problems, which may be hidden within the lifes and experiences of youth. Presently, is our understanding that the police have adopted a system of labeling some Aboriginal youth as gang members. We are uncomfortable with this, because the process seems to be subjective, and the consequences are severe. At the same time, we understand the need to manage the larger, more formal adult gangs. (excerpt)
Mahfuz, James J. and Hart, Linda M.. Roca: Supporting Young People to Thrive and Lead Change.
Since its inception in 1988, thousands of young people from Chelsea and Revere, Massachusetts have reclaimed their lives at Roca through the power of transformational relationships. Driven by a vision of children thriving and leading change, Roca has become a place where disenfranchised youth find a safe haven for growing and nurturing their dreams: both for themselves and their community. Rejecting the deficit model—a model that sees young people as the victims of the social ills that they have experienced: poverty, racism, war in their native countries, and violence in their own communities, Roca has built it’s programming on the strengths of these resilient youth. Roca’s theory of change is that as young people experience greater degrees of belonging and generosity in their lives, they become better positioned to thrive and lead change as they grow into adulthood. Author's abstract.
Boyes-Watson, Carolyn. Healing the Wounds of Street Violence: Peacemaking Circles and Community Youth Development.
Peacemaking circles, a method of communication and problem solving derived from aboriginal and native traditions, are used in relationship development, healing, community building, and restorative justice efforts. This article highlights how circles are used at Roca—a multicultural, youth, family, and community development organization—to open up fresh possibilities for connection, collaboration, and mutual understanding between youth and adult participants. (excerpt)
Violence in Byron Bay, Australia – it takes a whole society to raise one violent boy, says Pip Cornall
from the entry on Malechallengemedia's blog: “Perhaps it takes a whole society to raise one violent boy,” says Male challenge (formerly sustainable-masculinity) advocate, Pip Cornall, who, after more than two decades working to prevent violence in the USA and Australia, is appalled by the rising youth violence showing up as teen gangs, homicides, teen porn, those damaging large group parties, vandalism, drugs, burglary, violent and sexist music. You’ll notice these behaviours almost always involve boys and young men—it’s a male thing, but it is a male thing that is growing.” ....When asked if we can solve the problem of youth violence he replied, “Sure we can. For example, in workshops with gang members and violent teens, when we help them drop the “tough guise,” we expose a vulnerable boy with terrible self esteem. Once we identify the root causes of male violence, we can design solutions—solutions of an immediate nature, and longer term preventative approaches.”
Grenfell, Dale Mary. ROCA- Restorative Justice in a Massachusetts Community
Roca is Spanish for “rock" or “foundation." Located in a highly diverse, multicultural, urban area north of Boston, Massachusetts, Roca, Inc is a values driven agency that began in 1998. Roca, Inc focuses on empowering at-risk youth and young families through programs that promote a real sense of belonging. In this article Dale Mary Grenfell describes its roots in restorative justice principles, peacemaking circles, multicultural programming, and community building. She also identifies some of Roca’s key programs – such as literacy, health, young parenting, and life skills – and she profiles the director of the organization, Molly Baldwin.
Badger, George and Albright, Cal. Alter-Natives to Non-Violence Initiative. Aboriginal Youth Gangs Exploration: a community development process
The approach adopted by the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations Alter-Natives to Non-Violence Initiative is rooted in the understanding that behaviours are the observable symptom of feelings and emotions that are hidden from our view. The negative behaviours of youth have developed into recognizable labels with pre-packaged responses for systems and adults. The process developed to respond to the labelled behaviours does not necessarily address the underlying problems that may be hidden within the lives and experiences of youth. A system has evolved that has been designed to respond to specific labels or symptoms that are convenient and identifiable. The systems are simply not sophisticated enough to resolve the sensitive personal issues of youth at risk. Abstract courtesy of the Centre for Restorative Justice, Simon Fraser University,

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