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Criminal Justice, Inspiring Stories

Fantastic Friday: Tribal Justice (Brooklyn Style) Edition

PHOTO CREDIT: DNAinfo/Alan Neuhauser

This is a really interesting story about the development and implementation of a Navajo-inspired “Peacemaking Program” being started in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn.

The collaboration between the Red Hook Community Justice Center and the Center for Court Innovation, each of whom studied Navajo peacemaking circles and approaches in designing the pilot program in Brooklyn, is set to launch on December 1.  It will provide an alternative to the traditional juvenile justice approach of working with children and teenagers who engage in minor criminal activity.

Under the program, a young offender in Brooklyn, charged with any crime up to simple assault, can be referred to the peacemaking circle, comprised of Red Hook community leaders recruited and trained by the Justice Center and the Center for Court Innovation.

In consenting to the program, defendants “accept responsibility” for their alleged crimes…as well as whatever restitution the peacemakers decide. Victims and prosecutors, however, must also agree to the program.

Defendants and victims then join the circle together to discuss the incident and its aftermath with two to four peacemakers. Community members who feel they’ve been affected by the crime — such as store owners concerned about a shoplifting incident, or residents who feel unsafe following a robbery — can also contribute to the conversation.

The resolutions that are handed down by the circle leaders could range widely…from writing an apology letter to requiring the defendant to attend more peacemaking sessions.

As many know, the US has the dubious distinction of having the highest incarceration rate in the world with almost 1% of the US population being imprisoned.  This is largely due to tough drug laws that target both recreational users and lower level drug dealers, disproportionately focused on lower income and minority communities.

And that’s only part of the issue given that the criminal justice process in this country does not focus on the rehabilitation of offenders and even upon serving their time, former prisoners do not have the same rights when they reenter society with respect to employment and even voting.  This has resulted in “the rebirth of a caste-like system in the United States, one that has resulted in millions [being] locked behind bars and then relegated to a permanent second-class status” as described so well in Michelle Alexander’s terrific book on the subject, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

Given that, it will be intriguing to see how this works out as it could provide a new model for how we help, support and rehabilitate those that go astray as opposed to punishing them in jail cells and ensuring that one potential mistake lasts a lifetime.

“In the criminal justice system, we talk about a past act — that’s all we’re concerned about. Did you do it, or didn’t you do it?” said Erika SassonPeacemaking Program director at the Center for Court Innovation.

“The peacemaking process looks at the feelings underlying the incident and looks toward the future — what’s going to prevent this from happening in the future?”

Have a Fantastic Friday everyone!

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