by: Frank McAlpin
When I learned that the Center on Halsted and Gender JUST in Chicago were debating the use of restorative justice at the Center, I couldn’t help but be frustrated. It seems to me that the Center would be the perfect organization to adopt and use a restorative justice model when holding youth patrons accountable for alleged policy infractions. Developing and/or using a true restorative justice model is another way for the Center “to serve as a catalyst for the LGBT community” and promote a culture of social justice.
At its best, restorative justice is a positive and transformative process for all those that participate and is especially meaningful to youth, particularly youth that feel invisible and powerless. It is a process that inherently honors the dignity of those involved and looks to engage with all individuals impacted. A restorative justice model seeks to understand an incident, no matter the severity, from the perspective of the person that was harmed (the victim), the person that did harm (the offender) and the impact that harm had on the community (the community members).
The overall goal of the restorative justice process is to repair the harm that was done in a particular incident. Repairing the harm is often accomplished when the parties involved are able to identify and share with each other how the incident has impacted their life. This dialogue often includes the person who caused the harm taking responsibility for their role in the incident. It is through this process that healing and growth can occur.
Currently countless schools, organizations, institutions and nations practice restorative justice in an effort to move away from a top-down, punitive punishment approach. In using a restorative justice model, the Center, would be part of a global movement in creating a more collaborative and developmental way of holding individuals accountable for wrong doing. In addition, practicing restorative justice instills a sense of community and empowerment within individuals and groups and examines the root causes of the harm or conflict.
Developing and implementing a restorative justice model for youth no doubt has its challenges. But they are challenges that can be resolved without compromising the basic tenets of restorative justice. And they are challenges that must be resolved collaboratively. In other words, youth, who the restorative justice model is for, should be intimately involved in the creation, implementation and evaluation of such a model.
As a leader within the community, there is no question that the Center should practice restorative justice when dealing with youth patrons. In practicing restorative justice the hope is that the Center’s youth, many of whom are extremely marginalized will feel recognized and included. These youth will be given the opportunity, maybe for the first time in their life, to explain their perspective and actually be heard. Through this process they, no matter their role in a specific incident, will be treated with respect and dignity.
And in practicing restorative justice the Center will be part of the positive transformation of its youth patrons. This transformation creates a culture of understanding, responsibility and community. A culture where youth are empowered and encouraged to understand the impact of their actions. And ultimately a culture that makes youth, regardless of their life circumstances or behaviors, feel more human.
Frank McAlpin is an educator, social worker and human rights activist.