It’s important to have community leaders and organizations participate in the creation of your restorative justice diversion program. This step offers guidance on gathering those voices and visions, and helps you start to identify local data on youth criminalization and diversion, so that you can begin to imagine how to customize your RJD program to meet the unique needs of your community.
Restorative justice needs community in order to thrive. At its foundation, restorative justice asks that we honor the humanity, dignity, and agency of all people and that we acknowledge and embrace our interconnectedness in each of our interactions with others. By coming to a collective understanding that harm is often the result of not being in right relationship with others and that justice should be inseparable and indistinguishable from healing, we can achieve not only the ideal environment for restorative justice diversion (RJD) to succeed, but also for the necessary paradigm shift from a punitive system to a restorative one. This is all to say that community—its voice, participation, and support—is of greatest importance before, during, and throughout the implementation of an RJD program. So listen carefully to what folks have to say, with an open heart and a deep desire to connect and understand.
In this step, you will learn how to become even more familiar with the beautiful wisdom that exists in your community. You will also learn about what type of criminal legal system data you should look for in order to paint a clear picture of how young people, particularly youth of color, are being criminalized in your county, and how RJD can best assist in eliminating racial and ethnic disparities in youth incarceration.
In the Restorative Justice Listening Sessions and House Meetings Resource you will find detailed information on what these meetings are and several tips and guidelines on how to hold them in your region.
larger gatherings, often open to the public, during which attendees are asked what they know about restorative justice diversion and how they would feel about a program in their community that includes the core elements in this approach to restorative justice diversion.
smaller, private gatherings that typically happen in folks’ homes and are made up of friends and neighbors of the host
Both these meetings offer opportunities for communal learning and dialogue, as well as sharing information about what your CBO is planning and hoping to achieve by developing an RJD program.
Finally, as community and system partner support for RJD grows, and the time for program launch gets nearer, these meetings can provide folks the time and space to brainstorm how they will be involved in their local RJD program (i.e. as community members in Restorative Community Conferences, as local mentors to enrolled youth, as resources or support to program participants, as members of an RJD steering committee or oversight council, etc.).
While these two meetings are different in setting and size, their general goals are typically the same:
A much less pleasant, but no less important part of this step, is becoming familiar with the juvenile legal system landscape in your county. This means first learning about the size of the youth population in your county (separated by age and gender). Then, if possible, learn what distinct parts of your county have concentrations of families and youth of color. These distinct areas may be distinguished by zip codes, cities or city/county districts. Gathering youth population data can be done by looking at the Census or visiting your local American Fact Finder page.
Next, you’ll need to identify the person or people in your county who can provide you with insight on: what the local juvenile legal process is; what diversion options may already exist; and who in the criminal legal system may be a supporter or opponent or somewhere in between of RJD. A good place to start is to meet with a juvenile attorney at your local Public Defender’s Office or with other juvenile justice lawyers to understand the following:
To capture all the information you find on local youth diversion programs, policies and decision-making bodies, refer to the Local Youth Justice Landscape Programs, Policies and Boards Worksheet.
The final, and perhaps most difficult part of creating a comprehensive juvenile legal system landscape, is gathering information on youth arrest, adjudication, probation, and incarceration/detention data. For the most part, this data is maintained by probation departments, but sometimes it can be found through police departments.
Some counties maintain detailed records on these statistics and are willing and able to share data easily and quickly, while others maintain very inconsistent or partial records. Similarly, some counties are willing and able to share this type of data with the public, while others may limit access or deny inquiries of this nature. This is all to say that you may need to get creative with how you acquire these statistics.
If your county is unable or unwilling to provide you with this information, The Burns Institute and the Vera Institute both have national databases on incarceration trends and racial/ethnic disparities in the U.S. juvenile legal system. Another way to identify areas where youth of color are likely experiencing disproportionate contact with the criminal legal system is by looking at school district data on suspension and expulsion rates separated by school.
The following are the general categories of data that you should look for. Whenever possible, this data should be disaggregated (sorted) by race, sex, race & sex, and zip code. When sorting by zip code is not possible, consider other geographical distinctions such as neighborhood or city/county district. To simplify this process, refer to the Local Youth Justice Landscape Data Worksheet , where you’ll find charts for capturing all these different data sets:
Now that you’ve learned how to engage with members of your community around what their vision of RJD is, you’re ready to move on to Step 2D. Funding. In this step, you’ll find suggestions on how to identify potential funders for your RJD program.
In one county, the community came out in full support of alternatives to youth incarceration after witnessing decades of youth criminalization with no real solution. In order to respond to community concerns, a CBO held multiple community meetings focused on health and the impact of criminalization. From these gatherings, the CBO compiled the needs and concerns of survivors and of relatives of young people who had been criminalized for harms they’d caused. At first, the stories seemed at odds with one another, coming from two separate “sides.” But as the impacts of failed approaches to addressing wrongdoing continued to be shared from survivors and people who had been criminalized or otherwise impacted by criminalization, everyone began to find common ground and a common voice. As the conversations deepened, the lines between who was a survivor and who had been been criminalized blurred.
In the gatherings held by the CBO, stories of harm experienced by both survivors and the families of incarcerated youth caused a paradigm shift in the way the community collectively addressed youthful wrongdoing. This shift, from opposition to collaboration and support, fostered the conditions for the creation of a restorative justice diversion program and for a healthier community.
HOLD Listening Sessions or House Meetings in your community
FILL OUT the charts on Local Youth Justice Data
FILL OUT the worksheet on Local Youth Justice Landscape - Programs, Policies, and Boards