Restoring justice

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By The Staff

This week we look at Asset #36, Peaceful Conflict Resolution. According to the Search Institute, “Youth are more likely to grow up healthy when they seek to resolve conflict non-violently.” Forty-five percent of youth nationwide are reported to have this Asset.

Several years ago, several sites in the Los Alamos Public Schools District took part in training called, “Restorative Justice.” These teachers, counselors, instructional assistants, bus drivers, coaches and other staff members were taught the principles of Restorative Justice.

This skill set is utilized at sites from playgrounds to classrooms and address issues of all varieties to allow youth to develop the skills to handle problems on their own. The biggest skill set that has to be developed is one that applies to us all, the art of listening.

Why would listening be called an art? We’ve become a society that is preparing the answer before the question is even finished being asked. Think of the student in the classroom who is shouting “oh, oh, oh,” because they know the answer.

Even as adults, we want to solve the problem and provide the answer when often the only thing that is needed is to listen to the grievance, complaint or way in which youth have been wronged in their lives. While the situation may not seem important to us as adults in the overall scheme of things, it may be of grand proportion to them.

The Restorative Justice philosophy brings all the affected parties together to air an issue, see how people were harmed, find a way to fix the problem and help the “offender” learn to make better choices in the future.

Viewfinder Traveling Portraits owner and photographer Jennifer Hanson Bartram and Barranca Elementary School third grade teacher Scott Johnson, who earned Los Alamos Teacher of the Year, never seem to surprise when it comes to facilitating the process and getting to the repair of any issue.

The youth that wind up in the program vary far and wide on the spectrum of financial, education and parent engagement backgrounds. Their crimes also range from bullying and theft to criminal damage to property and gun possession.

The real beauty of the process is the people in the room have a goal, which is for all of the parties concerned to help the youth make better choices.

The Los Alamos Police Department, the Los Alamos County Library staff, the Rev. Steve Bublitz, school personnel, local business owners, friends and neighbors have all taken part in the process of repairing harm to victims and the community.

They have all taken part to help youth make better choices and become better members of the community.

The youth who were doing graffiti had no idea the mom on the street wouldn’t let her children play outside for fear of gang members in the community. The boy playing with fire didn’t realize the harm potential to the surrounding community in a dry season. The kids shooting paintballs at passing cars didn’t understand the possibility that a shot in the face could have caused the driver to crash, or worse.

The Restorative Justice work helps them see their crime in a different light by being confronted in a safe and productive venue by those that have been harmed.

The involvement of the victim in the cases is best, but sometimes, the pain for the victim is too close to face. When those situations arise, a victim that has had a similar experience is present along with a representative that isn’t involved in the incident but has been affected as a member of their community.

The life lessons learned in these restorative circles cause everybody in the room to see the situation differently. The youth make choices, consider friendships and see following the pack differently.

The adults view youth, their situations and relate to them differently too.

The local Restorative Justice program is run by and additional information is available through the Los Alamos Community Health Council.

The Community Health Council has acquired books that will be available for circulation through Mesa Public Library, in the near future.

Bernadette Lauritzen is the Coordinator of the Assets In Action program and comments are welcome at 661-4846 or at AssetsInAction@att.net. To learn more about the 40 Developmental Assets framework visit their website at www.AssetsInAction.info.