Resolution 31614: Zero Use of Detention for Juveniles

The intention of Resolution 31614[1] is to help foster a healthier community and a component of this is to address the disparaging incarceration rates of people of color, in particular, African American youth. However, a change in the policy of how the City of Seattle manages abhorrent behavior will serve to be beneficial to youth of all ethnicities and backgrounds. So, before I present information that represents the evidence of Restorative Justice (RJ) as a reaction to ‘criminal’ behavior, I want to highlight the very real need for a multiplicity of efforts that I believe should function in conjunction with RJ to achieve the objectives of this resolution.

The best research that I have been through over the past four years reveals that socio-economic conditions and, access to and assistance with education directly impact the social outcomes of individuals in society. Essentially, when people are suffering from dire socio-economic conditions and/or suffer from a deficient education are huge factors, if not partial causes, that incarceration is a response to. This is why I sought to highlight programs like The Service Board (TSB)[2], Arts Corps[3], The Youth Orion Center[4], and New Horizons Youth Ministries[5] among others when I provided testimony at the Public Safety, Civil Rights, and Technology Committee” meeting September 16, because they have the potential to intercede in the lives of inner-city youth prior to their becoming involved with the criminal justice system. It is my opinion that a proactive approach is much preferable to a reactive approach and this will require a continuing effort to support organizations, which do such and to implement strategies and programs to address the other factors that lead to abhorrent behavior.

Working on issues like affordable housing, employment and job training, and education in conjunction with employing Restorative Justice programs and practices are what will be necessary to address the concerns the Seattle City Council is confronting with Resolution 31614. This analysis is shared by William Julius Wilson, the author of “When Work Disappears: The World of the New Urban Poor” (1996), wherein Wilson identifies social and economic conditions as harm causing factors that shape cultural responses to environmental constraints. These constraints affect all ethnicities, but because of the demographics of urban areas it is also the case that people of color are disproportionately affected. Nonetheless, the net result will improve conditions for all the citizens whom are marginalized within an urban area, not just people of color, but especially them. Restorative Justice by itself does not have the capacity or the aim of addressing all the factors entailed in social and economic conditions that lead to behavior labeled as ‘criminal’. However, coupling other initiatives with RJ will be proactive and seek to heal our community.

Restorative Justice has been shown to reduce the likelihood of re-offence and to decrease recidivism, as well as, improve victim satisfaction with the justice system. A report produced by the Ministry of Justice titled, “Restorative Justice in New Zealand: December 2010,”[6] wherein the structure of the program is identified and provides a summary of objective results of the implementation of RJ in their country. In particular, the report notes that “Reconvictions reduced by 27% in 2 years following restorative justice process,”[7]  which is a vast decrease.  The New Zealand Ministry of Justice released another report June 2011 titled “Reoffending Analysis for Restorative Justice Cases: 2008 and 2009,”[8] which details further findings. The 2011 report states, “The principal finding of this report is that those who had been through a restorative justice conference had a 20 percent lower reoffending rate than comparable offenders who did not receive a restorative justice conference (33.2% and 41.3% respectively).”[9] The 2010 report from the New Zealand Ministry of Justice did report that youth have a higher expected rate of offense, and that this group did show a consistent rate of re-offense. It also reported that “Offenders aged 20 – 25 years showed a large apparent drop”[10] in the rate of re-offense. So, although not all reports are favorable for RJ practices and programs, by and large it seems to be effective. These reports show dramatic and positive impacts on the criminal justice system as measured by recidivism and re-offense, which reveals that there are promising potentials for its application in the City of Seattle.

The program in New Zealand holds the victim as the primary focus in the Restorative Justice process, and the Restorative Justice: Victim, Offender, Community states, “If the victim’s needs are addressed, the process will serve the offender and the community well”[11] Earlier I alluded to victim satisfaction with the justice system the Smith Institute has conducted an in-depth analysis the effectiveness of RJ in reducing the harms to victims.[12] The Smith Institute acknowledges that those victims of crime who elect not to engage with the people who caused them harm or the victims of unsolved offense will not receive the same benefits of RJ as those who participate in the process. This is also in line with voluntary characteristic of RJ that New Zealand identifies in its Best Practice Principles; “Restorative justice processes are underpinned by voluntariness for both the victim and the offender.”

[13] The Smith Institute notes that of those who elect to participate in the RJ process “almost always indicate a high level of satisfaction with the process”[14] The Smith Institute further acknowledges that the RJ process may not be appropriate for all situations and in a small proportion of those analyzed, their condition worsened as a result of engaging with the offenders. The Smith Institute concludes that “Nonetheless, across all these studies including many kinds of offence type the conclusions are clear: when victims consent to meet their offender in an RJ conference they are usually satisfied with their experience provided that 1) the RJ meeting happens as promised and 2) the offender complies with the undertakings they made during the conference.”[15]

The Smith Institute report reveals that Restorative Justice may be more effective at decreasing the recidivism of violent crime than non-violent crime. A randomized experiment the report notes is the Canberra RISE project, which observed: “In a two-year-before, two-year-after comparison, the frequency of arrest among white people under 30 years of age who were assigned to RJ dropped by 84 per 100 offenders more than in the control group”[16] The other studies also showed decreases in recidivism, although, not as pronounced. However, in regard to property crime, the Smith Institute observed two studies that revealed increased recidivism, and five studies that revealed decreased recidivism.[17] It was the report’s conclusion that there is simply not enough evidence compiled thus far to make a determination either way as to the effectiveness on non-violent crime.

Returning to a point I made earlier about proactive measures that intercede in people’s lives prior to their entering into the criminal justice system, the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) has been employing Restorative Justice practices since 2005, with promising results.[18] As a justification for the implementation of RJ programs and practices, the OUSD states, “Compelling evidence suggests that zero tolerance disciplinary policies and teacher/principal practices used for decades do not work to improve student behavior, school safety or academic achievement. In fact, they limit meaningful opportunity for students to learn and engage, instead increasing unstructured out-of-school time and likelihood of isolation, dropping out and being arrested.”[19] This is an analysis that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has concurred in the article “Where Zero Tolerance Makes Zero Sense.”[20] The OUSD had at the time of the report 24 schools including elementary, middle, and high school levels. The schools reported growth and development of community that was translated into conflict resolution, intrapersonal and interpersonal skill development, emotional intelligence development, growth in empathy and understanding, and improvement in relationships with both teachers and other students.[21] In addition to that, suspensions and expulsions have decreased, reading levels have improved, attendance has improved, and graduation rates have significantly increased in comparison to schools that have not implemented RJ practices.[22] By employing RJ in the school system many of the factors that are implicated in criminal and abhorrent behavior are being addressed and they are witnessing very promising results.

Restorative Justice, as effective as it seems is also not the only program that has been used to intercede the detention of youth. For example, the 180 Program[23] was launched in 2012 in King County, which permits first and second time offenders to opt into workshops with ex-offenders who had turned their lives around. There is also the Creative Justice[24] program which fosters art based alternatives to youth incarceration in King County has just launched in 2015. Alternative programs to incarceration have real potential to shape the lives of our youth and one inspiring story comes from a former prosecuting attorney and superior court judge named, John Phillips. In the article, “I was tired of throwing kids in prison. So I built a place to help keep them out of it,”[25] Phillips speaks to the problems of mandatory minimum sentencing and how a lack of flexibility in sentencing was harmful and exacerbated the problem facing marginalized communities. He writes about the lack of services that were available for marginalized youth saying; “Very few services were provided for young people involved in criminal activity before they got in trouble. But once the trigger was pulled, all sorts of resources were directed to them — police, prosecutors, a defense attorney, the judge, the judicial system, probation officers, and of course, prison incarceration.” Phillips, with his community transformed an abandoned hospital into a school/community center for at risk and marginalized youth to help them learn vocational, educational, and life skills with a focus on community and, also provided transitional living spaces for homeless youth. “We’ve reduced recidivism 80 percent among students in the program, and the rate of our students staying out of trouble is twice that of young people exiting incarceration without the benefit of our program” Phillips reports. Even more encouraging than the statistics Phillips reports, is the observation he has of his students spirits; “When you provide young people with an encouraging environment and the opportunity to rediscover themselves, they begin to hold their heads up high and start thinking, often for the first time, about their future.”

The goal of Resolution 31614 is not only the Zero Use of Detention for Juveniles, but the creation of a more healthy community. That is what is implied by the intention of forming partnerships and making investments into community led solutions and organizations and, that is the express intent of incarceration and the now present need to transition from utilizing incarceration. The problem is unfortunately not one dimensional, but rather, a multi-factored, multi-layered set of circumstances and constraints. It will require ingenuity and creativity and a willingness to experiment with promising alternatives. A multiplicity of tactics and strategies that address the socio-economic conditions and constraints, which lead to criminal and abhorrent behaviors of individuals and groups is necessary. The programs and organizations that I have listed above are some, although, not all of the programs locally or abroad that reveal promising outcomes and as such, are viable alternatives to the incarceration of our youth. Above all, I believe it is better to be proactive than reactive, which means interceding prior to our youth encountering the criminal justice system, programs like the 180 Program, Creative Justice, and Restorative Justice being led by our community members and organizations, is a great way to begin healing our community.

[1] file:///C:/Users/Michael%20Moynihan/Desktop/Community%20Based%20Alternatives%20to%20Imprisonment/Proposed%20Amendment.pdf

[2] http://www.theserviceboard.org/

[3] http://www.artscorps.org/

[4] http://www.youthcare.org/

[5] http://nhmin.org/

[6] http://www.justice.govt.nz/policy/criminal-justice/restorative-justice/documents/restorative-justice-overview.pdf

[7] http://www.justice.govt.nz/policy/criminal-justice/restorative-justice/documents/restorative-justice-overview.pdf (p. 6)

[8] file:///C:/Users/Michael%20Moynihan/Desktop/Community%20Based%20Alternatives%20to%20Imprisonment/Reoffending%20Analysis%20for%20RJ%20Cases%202008%20and%202009.pdf

[9] file:///C:/Users/Michael%20Moynihan/Desktop/Community%20Based%20Alternatives%20to%20Imprisonment/Reoffending%20Analysis%20for%20RJ%20Cases%202008%20and%202009.pdf (p. 7)

[10] http://www.justice.govt.nz/policy/criminal-justice/restorative-justice/documents/restorative-justice-overview.pdf (p. 6)

[11] http://www.restorativejustice.org.nz/cms/RJManual/tabid/63/Default.aspx

[12] http://www.iirp.edu/pdf/RJ_full_report.pdf (p. 61)

[13] http://www.justice.govt.nz/policy/criminal-justice/restorative-justice/documents/restorative-justice-overview.pdf (p. 8)

[14] http://www.iirp.edu/pdf/RJ_full_report.pdf (p. 62)

[15] http://www.iirp.edu/pdf/RJ_full_report.pdf (p. 65)

[16] http://www.iirp.edu/pdf/RJ_full_report.pdf (p. 68)

[17] http://www.iirp.edu/pdf/RJ_full_report.pdf (p. 69)

[18] http://www.ousd.org/cms/lib07/CA01001176/Centricity/Domain/134/OUSD-RJ%20Report%20revised%20Final.pdf  (IV)

[19] http://www.ousd.org/cms/lib07/CA01001176/Centricity/Domain/134/OUSD-RJ%20Report%20revised%20Final.pdf  (IV)

[20] https://www.aclu.org/blog/where-zero-tolerance-makes-zero-sense

[21] http://www.ousd.org/cms/lib07/CA01001176/Centricity/Domain/134/OUSD-RJ%20Report%20revised%20Final.pdf  (V)

[22] http://www.ousd.org/cms/lib07/CA01001176/Centricity/Domain/134/OUSD-RJ%20Report%20revised%20Final.pdf  (VI)

[23] http://www.kingcounty.gov/Prosecutor/news/2012/june/180program.aspx

[24] http://creativejustice.4culture.org/

[25] https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2015/08/07/i-was-tired-of-throwing-kids-in-prison-so-i-built-a-place-to-help-keep-them-out-of-it/

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