City Heights' residents shared their personal stories of struggle and triumph with a crowd of more than 400 decision makers on February 26 at the Restorative Justice and Restorative Practices Summit. The day-long meeting is part of an ongoing effort by Mid-City Community Advocacy Network's Peace Promotion Momentum Team and its many partners to educate those involved in the criminal justice system on the movement of restorative justice.
"Back in 2009 folks came together and they said there has to be something different because so many kids in City Heights are getting caught up in the system and want to heal; it's time to heal," said Diana Ross, Executive Director at Mid-City CAN.
As an alternative to traditional sentences, Restorative Justice offers both the youth offender and the person their crime harmed the chance to make things right within the community. Rather than serve time in the juvenile system, they volunteer to meet face-to-face through the Restorative Community Conference (RCC) Pilot Project in order to work out customized plans of action, which are designed to repair the harm done to victims, families and the community.
Jose Ortega is just one example of a positive outcome. He not only went through the program himself after committing a crime; he is now an outspoken advocate for Restorative Justice.
"Thanks to this program I was able to get on a better path and without it I don't know where I'd be right now," said Ortega. "It's given me a more open view of how my actions affect others."
Francisco Nada is on the opposite side of the spectrum from Ortega. He was the victim of a crime, and almost lost his life. He chose to go through the RCC program because he wanted to see his offender work toward a better life instead of getting caught up in a cycle of crime.
"I saw that [the youth offender] lacked love... the kid who made me a victim needed love, " said Nada. "I wanted to give the kid an opportunity like everyone here has received an opportunity."
Michelle Ruiz has also been through RCC, but as the mother of two boys who committed a crime. She says she needed the program in order to pull them out of a negative spiral.
"Restorative justice is good for our youth, to keep them out of trouble and get them on the right path and for us as parents to break that cycle for our kids," said Ruiz.
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