The Albany County Juvenile Service Board is planning to train partnering agencies July 24 with a new strategy for helping youth stay out of the court system. The new method, called restorative justice, focuses on rehabilitating troubled youth through reconciliation with the victims and community, Albany County School District No. 1 Vice Chairman Dona Coffey said.
According to the save-the-date announcement, some of the topics that will be covered at the training include judges’ experience with restorative justice, how restorative justice has helped communities heal, how it can be an alternative method to hold youth accountable and how to incorporate different members of the community.
Restorative justice mediation would arrange discussions between the youth and members of the community to address the needs of both parties, Albany County Attorney Peggy Trent said. With the discussion, the juvenile could learn how to repair the harm to provide closure for the victims and/or community members.
“Restorative justice provides another tool for the juvenile system to address the problems of the juvenile and allow them to have an informed conversation about their actions,” Trent said.
With restorative justice, entities such as law enforcement, hospitals the school districts could set up a discussion beneficial to the victim and the youth. Each agency will have to consider the needs of the juvenile and victim, promote positive youth development, repair harm through accountability and build a sense of community, the project proposal states.
The desired outcomes of restorative justice are to help the victims become more aware of their rights and resources while providing consistent treatment and equal access to competent services. Increasing the resources available to community agencies is also a desired outcome of this system, the project proposal states.
“It is the intent of this project to provide school officials, (Department of Family Services) and (Big Brothers Big Sister) an alternatives method to address the actions of juveniles who engage in anti-social behaviors,” the project proposal states. “In addition, to provide the affected victims and/or community an opportunity to address their victimization directly with the juvenile.”
The Juvenile Services Board has been using a single-point-of-entry method, also referred to as the Juvenile Intake Team, to help youth. With restorative justice, youth with the mediation would be less likely to become repeat offenders, decreasing the number of youth going through the program, Trent said.
“It’s a tool to assist at-risk youth,” Trent said. “Youth going through restorative justice helps them resolve issues which helps reduce the number of youths going through the intake program.”
The Juvenile Services Board is unique in the state because of how it uses organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters to oversee the program to help at-risk youth and other preventative steps to try to keep juveniles from being referred to Juvenile Court. While other mediation methods have been used before, the method the Juvenile Service Board is attempting will be the first of its kind in Albany County, Trent said.
“It’s a different model of restorative justice, you’ll hear about bits and pieces of other mediations being used at other places but that it isn’t pure restorative justice,” Trent said. “The version we are going to implement is true mediation.”
In 2015, 70 participants went through the Diversion program with Big Brothers Big Sisters. Of the 70 participants, 92.3 percent of them successfully completed the program, according to the diversion program report. Since January 2015, the participants have completed 1,947 hours of community service, with only one participant not making restitutions since then.