Something New is About to Happen
Evelyn Wald, Center for Alternatives in Community Justice
For decades both the Center for Alternatives in Community Justice (CACJ) and CentrePeace have been involved in offering restorative justice programs and opportunities to Centre County residents. We both work closely within our criminal justice systems collaborating with the courts, law enforcement, and the correctional facilities. Their shared mission is to move toward options that heal, restore and reintegrate individuals into our communities.
Last March, a steering committee formed to explore bringing a new program to Centre County: Community Conferencing. We contacted Dr. Lauren Abramson, who launched this process in Baltimore in 1995. Abramson consented to work with us as we create the program for Centre County. Baltimore has done more than 18,000 conferences with a 95% agreement rate and 95% follow through on their agreements.
So, what IS Community Conferencing? It is an opportunity for everyone to come together, speak and be heard, and formulate a resolution that addresses the needs of the offender, those harmed, and the community, and prevent future incidents. The circle is under the guidance of a trained facilitator that enables dialogue and healing.
There is much excitement and support in bringing Community Conferencing to Centre County. The program, focusing on neighborhood disputes, court diversion, and reentry for returning citizens, will seek to create a community rooted in equity and collaboration where people can transform their conflicts into cooperation and healing.
Our current criminal justice approach is one of retributive justice: a theory that the goal of punishment for criminal offenses is for the offender to pay his or her debt to society. Restorative justice seeks to gather all those concerned with the offense and institute a process that aims to bring about understanding, forgiveness, healing, resolution, and reintegration.
Meetings have been held with “stakeholders” – law enforcement, magisterial district judges, our community commissioners, probation and parole, and members of the correctional facility staff - are on board. In April, Dr. Abramson will train volunteer facilitators with the hope of conferences beginning in May of this year.
If you would like to learn more about Community Conferencing or volunteer as a facilitator, please contact CACJ at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Presentations are available to your group about this very impactful endeavor.
Imagine a world where strong relationships, authentic communication, and the genuine desire to understand one another thrive. The solution lies within our individual communities. Every voice needs to be heard.