A Diversion for Dennis

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Dennis, a boy of 14 from a comfortable, suburban family north of Boston sees an ad on line for a legal “vape” containing flavored liquid. He contacts 17 year-old Natalie, the seller, who is from a low-income community in the Merrimack Valley. They agree to meet close to his home to make the exchange.

Natalie comes with her brother’s 15 year-old girl-friend, Jen, and Jen’s baby. Dennis arrives with several other boys, grabs the vape and runs off without paying.

Natalie notifies the police who arrest Dennis, who is now terrified. Natalie tells the police that she wants the money owed her, but does not want him ending up in court. The case is diverted to OurRJ, where all parties agree to meet in a Circle process.

Natalie and Jen bring the baby with them to Circle and explain to Dennis and his mother that they had to sell their vape to pay for diapers and other necessities for the baby’s survival. They mention that their family and friends could have found Dennis and beaten him, something they wished to avoid. Remarkably, they say they do not want to see Dennis get buried in the juvenile justice system as they, and many of their friends have been, something that has made their lives incredibly difficult.

They share a story about a beloved friend of theirs who, like Dennis, began with petty thefts, ignored their warnings, and was found murdered on his doorstep one day.

Dennis talks about how he never thought any of it through of his actions, and how sorry he is to have caused so much trouble for the family, and the baby. He is anxious to do whatever is needed to make amends. Natalie and Jen say they need money for the baby, and Dennis and his mother agree to send them a check covering the cost of the vape plus related damages.

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Natalie suggests that Dennis get a job to pay back his mother, and because he has caused her such grief, that he also prepare a meal for her and his family--all of which he ultimately does. Finally, Natalie says she heard that Dennis is a hockey player and says she’d like to come to some of his games, which he enthusiastically agrees to.

A successful outcome for everyone. If the case was not referred to us, Dennis would have been in court for stealing. Please continue to support this work to help more children like Dennis stay in school.

Our Restorative Justice work-in-action

A young woman whom we shall call Maria Elena, was generally calm and soft-spoken with no history of negative behavior in school. For no clear reason, she erupted one day, making one scene after another at school, even yelling at her favorite teacher. While she never hurt or harmed anyone, she caused quite a disturbance. The class had to be cleared, and when the school dean was called in to try to calm her down, Maria Elena yelled at her as well. Not knowing what else to do, the dean called the police who, after being unable to calm her down, arrested Maria Elena and ejected her from school in full handcuffs, thereby traumatizing her.

Given her total lack of any prior misbehavior, Maria Elena was referred to OurRJ. She agreed to participate in a restorative Circle, and chose her grandmother, father, and the dean as Circle participants. During the pre-Circle prep, facilitated by OurRJ’s program manager, she was asked if there was something bothering her that she needed to express. Maria Elena revealed that her melt-down at school happened on the third anniversary of her mother’s death. When she was just 13 years old, Maria Elena found her mother dead in the bathtub. Her grandmother, also present at that devastating moment, has stepped in to support Maria Elena ever since her mother’s death.

Once in the safe space Circle creates, Maria Elena found her voice and could share her pain in her own way. The dean and others acknowledged her truth-telling, which provided a starting point for healing. Next, Maria Elena expressed her own deep regret for yelling at fellow students, the dean, and her teacher whom she liked and respected a great deal.

Remarkably, the Circle process also clarified that no one at the school had taken the time to talk with Maria Elena, to listen or to find out what precipitated such an outcry. A creative and tailored reparative agreement generated by the participants, including Maria Elena, provided that if Maria Elena felt this way again, she would immediately ask to see the school counselor or social worker to ask for help with this and any other related issues. The school agreed to make this assistance possible. In another provision, Maria Elena also wanted to apologize to her teacher and others in person. This was added to the agreement and signed by all parties.

OurRJ Receives Cummings Foundation $100K for 100 Award!

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Meghan Higgins, Our Restorative Justice, 724-987-3063, meghanhiggins@ourrj.net

Contact: Julie DeSilva, Cummings Foundation, 781-932-7093, jmd@cummings.com

Our Restorative Justice awarded $100,000

Lowell nonprofit receives Cummings Foundation grant

Lowell, June 16, 2017 - Our Restorative Justice is one of 100 local nonprofits to receive grants of $100,000 each through Cummings Foundation’s “$100K for 100” program. The Lowell-based organization was chosen from a total of 549 applications, during a competitive review process.

Our Restorative Justice (OurRJ) provides marginalized youth and young adults with an alternative approach to justice that disrupts the school to prison pipeline. By giving young people a voice, and coalescing systems of support around them, we create institutions in which all young people thrive.

Representing OurRJ, Susan Maze-Rothstein, Board President and Acting Executive Director, as well as Eli Plenk, Program Manager, joined approximately 300 other guests at a reception at TradeCenter 128 in Woburn to celebrate the $10 million infusion into Greater Boston’s nonprofit sector. With the conclusion of this grant cycle, Cummings Foundation has now awarded more than $170 million to local nonprofits alone. 

“We are deeply appreciative of Cummings Foundation for their incredible commitment to Massachusetts communities and cannot wait to use this award to bring the transformative power of restorative justice to more youth, families, and communities in the Commonwealth,” said Plenk.

According to Maze-Rothstein, “This award will allow us to strengthen our Middlesex County case-based models and divert more young people out of the juvenile justice system, providing them with an opportunity to avoid a lifelong criminal record. It will also support us as we increasingly work alongside schools, helping them to adopt restorative school discipline practices that seek to foster empathy and build strong school communities, rather than excluding and shunning students when mistakes are made. Stemming the school to prison pipeline requires a multi-tiered, systemically-oriented approach, and support from Cummings Foundation will be critical in working towards our goals.”

The $100K for 100 program supports nonprofits that are not only based in but also primarily serve Middlesex, Essex, and Suffolk counties. This year, the program is benefiting 35 different cities and towns within the Commonwealth.

“Nonprofit organizations like Our Restorative Justice are vital to the local communities where our colleagues and clients live and work,” said Joel Swets, Commings Foundation’s executive director. “We are delighted to invest in their efforts.”

This year’s diverse group of grant recipients represents a wide variety of causes, including homelessness prevention and affordable housing, social justice and justice reform, education, violence prevention, and food insecurity. Most of the grants will be paid over two to five years.

The complete list of 100 grant winners is available at www.CummingsFoundation.org.

About Our Restorative Justice

Our Restorative Justice (OurRJ) provides marginalized youth and young adults with an alternative approach to justice that disrupts the school to prison pipeline. Since 2012, OurRJ has used restorative justice as an alternative to juvenile court that strengthens families, helps build resilient communities, and empowers young people to continue their education and move towards the workforce. By giving young people a voice, and coalescing systems of support around them, we create institutions in which all young people thrive. OurRJ has successfully diverted over 80 youth out of the courts and into our comprehensive, developmentally- responsive, restorative justice program, while serving as a leader in promoting restorative justice in schools and communities throughout the Commonwealth. To learn more, visit www.ourrj.org.

About Cummings Foundation

Woburn-based Cummings Foundation, Inc. was established in 1986 by Joyce and Bill Cummings of Winchester. With assets exceeding $1.4 billion, it is one of the largest foundations in New England. The Foundation directly operates its own charitable subsidiaries, including two New Horizons retirement communities, in Marlborough and Woburn. Its largest single commitment to date was $50 million to Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. Additional information is available at www.CummingsFoundation.org.

PHOTO: OurRJ’s Board President/Acting Executive Director Susan Maze-Rothstein (center) and Program Manager Eli Plenk (right) at the Grant Winner Celebration.

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Why We Believe in Restorative Justice: An Interview With OurRJ's Program Planner

"I think the reason that I’m drawn to it is because it feels so powerful. I think that what young people need is the chance to be heard and respected in their own voice. And they also really need to feel supported and to feel like they’re a part of a community that really cares about them. And I just think that this is a beautiful process for bringing those two things together."

LEGISLATION UPDATE

LEGISLATION UPDATE

OurRJ believes that restorative justice legislation is a critical component of the battle for equity in Massachusetts.  We have therefore been closely tracking senate bill S.2467, which codifies restorative justice as an alternative to traditional juvenile and adult criminal justice practices. Bill S.2467 was approved by the Senate Ways and Means Committee at the end of July.  And, for the first time in a four year effort, a necessary House version of the bill, H.4368 was introduced in the House.  Amendments were offered at the end of the session.  It will be worked on during the fall and then re-filed in January 2017.  We know this signifies increased excitement about restorative justice in the commonwealth and growing support for criminal justice reform both locally and nationally.  We are eager to continue working with our allies in the senate and house to advocate for restorative justice legislation. Head on over to our Legislation page to learn more about the history of restorative justice legislation. And please continue checking our website for updates!