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July 28, 2016 Comments (0) Education News

Communities Create Their Own Safety; Police Just Help



By Julia Steiny

David Karp, who directs Skidmore College’s Project on Restorative Justice, tells this story:? Earlier, a student, whom we’ll call Sarah, found class eventually visibly upset.? She’d been “harmed,” within the language of Restorative Justice (RJ), so her plight was appropriate for discussion in a criminal justice class.

Apparently she had been hanging with friends near their off-campus apartment when they looked up and saw a guy staring at them.? They noted that he was creepy, but whatever.? They dispersed.? That night Sarah and her housemates visited bed, but she heard noises within the living room.? She peeked to see what was going on and saw exactly the same guy.? Freaked, she hid.? The guy left the home.? Sarah rallied her housemates, all of whom found another place to go that night.? The lock on the door have been broken, so the creep had just slipped in?–?and may again.

That was Sunday.? Monday was class.? She was totally rattled.? Her fellow students wanted blood, out of the box typical.? They wanted the cops in the future and stake the area out so they could capture the man and throw him into jail.

Problem solved.

Well, not so fast.? Yes, law enforcement should certainly be alerted.? They ought to get a description of what is so far merely a sketchy guy, and accept keep an eye out for him as well as on that neighborhood.? They\’d urge obtaining the lock fixed.

But law enforcement aren’t likely to expend resources on a stakeout, a crime scene with finger-printing, an APB and also the rest of what college TV-watchers think cops must do to protect fellow students.? The great professor’s burning question was: ?Sarah felt violated, what exactly did she need at this time?? How might Restorative Justice approach this case?

Police do not make communities safe; communities make themselves safe.?

Communities set standards for behavior designed to help every individual feel safe.? Law enforcement are an extension of the community’s public safety efforts, but not a replacement for them — just as doctors support health, but are not replacements for eating healthily and exercise.? The rise of professional services has reduced the necessity to care for ourselves and one another.? So individuals fall into the habit of believing that the responsibility for certain problems is associated with someone else.

In the Restorative Justice world, the community itself is the frontline of handing conflict and harm.? Yes, professional police do the heavy lifting of controlling uncontrollable behavior.? But safety factors are a product of creating trust together.? Crime statistics notwithstanding, safety is a feeling.? Nowadays, crime stats are down, but people still report feeling unsafe.? So without dumping the duty on the police, Karp asked, exactly how should we help Sarah feel safe?

The class had to stop a minute to think.? That’s a way different problem than the one resulting from our TV-infused faith in “trail ‘em, nail ‘em, jail em.”

One child said he knew how to fix a lock and would get it done after class.

Another student’s mother would be a lawyer and knew about leases.? He could solicit his mom’s help obtaining the girl and her roommates out of that lease so that they could get another place.

A third suggested all give Sarah their cell phone numbers so she will always reach out and get someone to be with her if she’s not feeling safe in your own home.

Sarah felt enormously supported.

So immediately, in the midst of a class discussion, the offender’s side of the equation ceased to become the issue one of the students.? Normally, in the present justice system, it’s the State versus Whomever.? But where’s the victim?? Who’s important here?? In traditional justice, victims have no voice within the proceedings, nor does anyone fuss regarding their need to heal.? But crime is a broken relationship between the victim and the offender.? Which rupture consequently rocks the trust of the community.

Karp says, “Even if there is a discussion about reparations (to victims), we don’t talk about rebuilding trust.? We build trust and community by allowing each member a voice along the way.”

Sarah came away from that class feeling far safer and more cared about personally than if the cops vowed some harsh action.? Cops would not have wrapped her warmly in their community embrace and brought their own personal resources to her aid.? This is no knock on cops; it’s just not what they do.? Sarah got super lucky that she was in that she was in a class that morning that wanted to be a community she could trust.? Individuals and communities would be better off taking care of one another more intimately and using the professionals only when necessary.? We’d all feel safer if Sarah’s “luck” were more common.


Julia Steiny is a freelance columnist covering kids and schools with the lens of Restorative Practices and Restorative Justice.? Currently she\’s Project Manager for a National Institute of Justice grant to review the effectiveness of restorative conferencing programs now being implemented in six Rhode Island Schools.? Steiny is the founding director from the Youth Restoration Project, the look partner in the grant.? After serving a phrase on the Providence School Board, for 16 years she wrote the Providence Journal’s weekly education column.? Since 1998, she has consulted with The Providence Intend on data analysis and communications, assisting to develop Information Works! for that RI Department of Education and also the RIDataHUB.? For more, see or contact her at The Youth Restoration Project includes a Facebook page with news and resources around the Restoration movement here and internationally.

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