Educational Forum: “A New Approach to Juvenile Justice”

Author: Erin Resner/Laura Christman

During last week’s Educational Forum on Restorative Justice, “A New Approach to Juvenile Justice,” approximately 100 attendees listened while three speakers shared successes of the current programs as well as where we still need to improve regarding juvenile offenders and at-risk youth.

Restorative Justice is an alternative philosophy to traditional methods of punishments for offenders. Restorative practices focus on repairing the damages caused by the offender and rebuilding the youth’s relationships within the community.

Tracie Neal, Chief Probation Officer of Shasta County, shared that the current Juvenile Rehabilitation Center houses roughly 20 to 35 juvenile offenders within two pods. Staff at this facility also work with 95 to 100 youth who have been put on in-home supervision. Because the goal of a restorative justice model is to repair the entirety of the youth to hopefully divert them from entering the adult offender population, these staff members work with the entire family during the restorative process.

Since the Juvenile Rehabilitation facility has opened it has helped lower the number of juveniles arrested from 1,600 to roughly 400. Jas Shaw, a Youth Peer Court coordinator and member of Youth Violence Prevention Council, shared that juvenile offenders who agree to participate in the Peer Court program are given the opportunity to have their case heard by a jury of their peers.The program boasts that only 5 percent of those who participate in peer court proceedings reoffend. This alternative approach allows for offending youth and non-offenders to work along side each other supporting this restorative approach. She joked that sometimes the offending juveniles are harder on their peers than the non-offenders who are volunteering.

The success of such programs is encouraging. Time and time again it is echoed that the most important determining factor in the course of a child’s life is having one or more healthy, positive adult relationships. This may come from a mentor, teacher, coach, councilor, etc, but as Mary Lord, who is the Shasta County Office of Education Director for Student Services, shared, there is a growing number of youth who are in need of a healthy adult relationship. She shared research regarding brain juncture and development in adolescents. Mary also shared the depressing statistics of the ACEs (adverse childhood experiences) of children in Shasta County, and how well the restorative justice model plays into the model of the still developing juvenile brain.

The Women’s Fund was pleased to hold such an informative forum and we encourage you to follow us on Facebook for details on the next Educational Forum.

Document available here for download.