This is Ray, and welcome to my third blog. Some say, “shooters shoot;” to that I respond, “bloggers blog”.
Since my first blog, I have been working as an intern for Youth Transforming Justice – an organization based in Marin that focuses on restorative justice. I haven’t written about YTJ yet, so I thought I might focus on some restorative justice talk this blog post.
YTJ’s primary responsibility is serving as an alternative to the traditional adolescent judicial system in California. They primarily work with drug and alcohol cases at the local high schools. Rather than facing suspension and a legal trail, YTJ works with students to create a restorative solution. The goal of our current judicial system is to punish the respondent. so they will be disincentivized to break the law again. With a restorative approach to justice, the goal is to heal and strengthen the relationships that the respondent damaged. This might take the form of community service, risk reduction training, or serving as a mentor to teens in similar situations.
One big part of YTJ is the youth meeting (also known as a youth court). Rather than a hearing in the California Juvenile Court, respondents meet with 10 or so kids their age. The bailiff, jury, and the respondent’s advocate are all teenagers, but the meeting still has legal significance. It serves as an alternative to a trial in the California Juvenile Court. In order to take part in the meeting, respondents must accept responsibility for their actions; the meeting isn’t a place to decide guilt or innocence. Instead, it’s a place for respondents to explain themselves and reflect on their actions.
Members of the jury take turns asking questions to the respondent – questions about their drug/alcohol use, home-life, personal relationships, etc. After learning more about the respondent and their current position in life, the jury creates a restorative plan for the respondent. The restorative plan is a list of actions the respondent needs to take in order to heal the relationships they damaged. Most restorative plans include serving as a member of the jury and participating in community engagement.
Since the virus emerged in the US, YTJ has almost exclusively been hosted online. Moving online eliminated a transportation problem. In the past, kids would have to miss required meetings because they could not find a reliable form of transportation to our offices. This isn’t a problem anymore, but internet connectivity is. YTJ relies on communication to form bonds and build empathy. Unstable internet is a big roadblock to this – shaky wifi creates stilted conversations. Although I am excited for the day when YTJ works in person, I hope we can use Zoom to make a more equitable program.
As an intern, I’ve been participating in the jury and working as a case manager. I am also helping create a similar restorative system in San Mateo county. As a case manager, I help kids complete the entire restorative process. The youth meeting is a small part of the overall program, I facilitate conversations and help them navigate harm-reduction training and community engagement.
The work is internally fulfilling. I have the opportunity to work with many people I would normally not cross paths with. I am helping kids my age move past the mistakes they made in the past.
See you in the next blog!