Our Restorative Justice (OurRJ), formerly known as Juvenile Court Restorative Justice Diversion (JCRJD) is a 501(c)(3) organization established in 2012. The mission of OurRJ is to provide marginalized youth and young adults with an alternative approach to justice that disrupts the school-to-prison pipeline. OurRJ utilizes a restorative justice model to empower youth to resolve harm and conflict within their own communities. It is a model that surrounds the young person with both high levels of support and high accountability to their community and to those harmed. By addressing the root cause of harm, the OurRJ approach keeps youth in school, strengthens families and builds robust communities.
OurRJ was established in 2012 in response to the increased number of youth arraigned for minor school-based offenses in the Middlesex County Juvenile Court. In 2007, under the leadership of the First Justice of Middlesex Juvenile Court, Jay D. Blitzman, the Lowell Juvenile Court began holding “school-court meetings” to bring together players from all corners of the system—school administrators, district attorneys, probation officers and others. These meetings were designed to understand each other's points of view and to explore collaborative partnerships outside of the context of often polarizing court cases. In support of these efforts, in 2010-11, under the leadership of Professor Susan Maze Rothstein, the Northeastern University School of Law’s Legal Skills in Social Context Program conducted extensive research and developed a preliminary plan for the launch of a juvenile court restorative justice diversion program in Middlesex and Suffolk Counties, creating the foundation for OurRJ. Retired Justice Leslie Harris of the Suffolk County Juvenile Court, and Judge Jay Blitzman of Middlesex County have provided critical leadership in the development of restorative justice as an innovative, alternative model of justice for our young people in Massachusetts.
Since its inception, OurRJ successfully diverted over 80 youth into restorative justice forums, and trained over 1,100 police officers in Middlesex County on how to refer youth to the program.
OurRJ is based in Lowell, and maintains partnerships with key system stakeholders that include: the Lowell Public Schools, the Middlesex District Attorney's Office, Middlesex Public Defenders Office, Middlesex County Police departments, United Teen Equality Center (UTEC) and other local nonprofit organizations.
In partnership with the Alternative Diploma Program at UTEC, OurRJ trained youth in restorative justice practices and conflict resolution, enabling them to become peer and community leaders. In 2014, the importance of OurRJ’s work was underscored with grants from the US Department of Justice, the Greater Lowell Community Foundation and the Merrimack Valley Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. In 2015, OurRJ distinguished itself from a field of 2,200 as a semifinalist in the renowned Mass Challenge Accelerator Program. OurRJ is increasingly recognized in Middlesex County as a positive option for responding to crime and delinquency. As a model for the future of justice in Massachusetts, OurRJ seeks to transform the way the justice system impacts young people and their communities.