ASCI Leaders Provide Details on Program for Restorative Justice
From the Desks of Dr. David Brock and Shielah DeBlanc
When defining justice, it is ultimately related to fairness. Therefore, justice for families means access to opportunity for everyone. For us to achieve justice for families, we must work to ensure mothers and fathers have fair labor wages, protection against injustice, access to a satisfying quality of life and support in times of hardship.
The Family Justice Restorative Initiative (FJRI) adopts the very basic definition of “justice” in that people receive what they deserve. This would appear to be a simple definition that is easily achievable; however, just treatment for all is influenced by factors including race, culture, social determinants of health, etc. When thinking about justice in the context of the children and families in our communities, FJRI recognizes that our families deserve the opportunity to recover from circumstances that are disproportionately experienced by oppressed groups by addressing mental, behavioral, emotional and cultural needs from a decriminalization perspective.
More specifically, FJRI is a clinical program offering services for formal juvenile diversion and family restoration for youth with an incarcerated or formerly incarcerated parent. The initiative is meant to decriminalize children by stabilizing families, reducing recidivism and providing successful reentry and exit to those youth involved in the criminal justice system. This initiative not only focuses on children, but also puts an emphasis on birth parents to bridge what is an obvious gap in need assessments and service delivery follow-through. FJRI is important because it provides an opportunity to correct criminalized behavior in identified children and families by providing specialized programming equipped with experiential group processing, mediation and individualized planning, as well as reestablishing family function and structural dynamics.
“Crossover youth” are involved in both child welfare and juvenile justice systems. A possible way to reduce recidivism is called Juvenile Diversion. Juvenile diversion programs approach and hold youth accountable for their behavior without resorting to legal sanctions, court oversight or the threat of confinement. Some programs have community leaders or organizations work with youth instead of the court. Regardless of the form diversion takes, its goal is for young people to mature into adulthood without being thrown off track by the negative effects of involvement in the criminal justice system, as criminal records can seriously damage young people’s future opportunities for employment and higher education. We must avoid having children enter the court system by any means necessary and look into criminal-justice reform as an additional possible solution. Developing programs that create barriers to youth reentry, access to jobs and employment resources, an end to plea-bargaining—which does not in itself aid these youth—and the overcriminalization of certain issues, and sentencing reform must create change at the highest level to keep children out of the system.
Another effective way to reduce recidivism in youth is by applying RNRs (i.e., risk, need and responsivity principles), wherein the risk principle underscores the need to consider services according to the risk for recidivism so that higher-risk youth receive more intensive approaches and lower-risk cases receive less intensive services; the need principle promotes the use of services that match the characteristics of factors that helped to cause the offending behavior; and the responsivity principle matches the styles and modes of service to the youth’s abilities and learning styles (Andrews, et al., 1990).
Additional ways to reduce recidivism in youth are to offer support to families, provide family therapy and introduce positive role models into the family structure. Furthermore, restorative justice can provide an effective way to address wrongdoing and do right by the people harmed. It can offer chances outside the juvenile justice system for young people to take responsibility for harm they have caused. It recognizes that legal proceedings can be difficult and unproductive for those harmed, those responsible for the harm, their families and other community members. Restorative justice symbolizes a need for a paradigm shift to view harm as a violation of people rather than the law. Making this change will lead to better outcomes for children of color.
The current restorative model used in juvenile justice has more potential to condemn than to restore, as the model appears to be incomplete. In our initial proposal for FRJI, when we looked at the Balanced and Restorative Justice (BARJ) Model, we noted that it gives attention to youth accountability, victim reparation and community interests (Dillard et al., 2019). What is missing from this model, specifically for youth in care, is a layer that recognizes our children as members of the victim reparation category in addition to the youth accountability category. Without this, the implied restorative balance is incomplete and has the potential to perpetuate recidivism.
The Rekindle Program is in essence the second arm of FJRI, with juvenile diversion services being identified first. This program is centered around cognitive restructuring and is meant to be directed toward our incarcerated or formerly incarcerated birth parents. In short, Rekindle recognizes the complexity of family dynamics when a birth parent has had justice system involvement and aligns the need to mend family relationships with the parent’s need to survive upon release, to provide an achievable balance for the birth parent. Through group sessions, resource finding, family therapy, etc., the birth parent is provided with a fair and just opportunity to make self-improvements to rekindle and redefine their role in their child’s life, thus making the family whole.