Restorative justice another path for citizens of the commonwealth
As we carry out our work in the legal community, it is good to
consider the legal maxim, "Melior est justitia vere praeveniens
quam severe puniens," which translates to, "Justice is better when
it prevents rather than punishes." At the same time we also need to
remember that one who spares the guilty threatens the innocent. As
you ponder these maxims, we at Juvenile Court Restorative Justice
Diversion also lift up the voices of those harmed by a criminal act
and work with the legal community to further justice in our
commonwealth. In doing so, we ask you to consider the following
questions: How can we work towards justice that prevents repeat
offending, holds responsible parties accountable and increases
What if a program existed that evaluated the root causes of a
person's delinquent act? In conjunction with law enforcement,
family members, the victim and supporting members of the community
would come together to create individually-tailored, case-specific
resolutions that demanded accountability while providing support.
Now, imagine if we could accomplish all of this without prosecuting
the juvenile in court. Imagine if a successful conclusion allowed
the first time offender a second chance at a clean criminal record
while still being held accountable to all parties for his actions.
Wouldn't this be an exciting way to reach justice, increase victim
satisfaction and reduce recidivism?
Today, this kind of program does exist. Juvenile Court Restorative
Justice Diversion (JCRJD), a nonprofit diversion program based on
restorative justice, has partnered with the Middlesex District
Attorney's Office to lead the commonwealth in this new option for
administering justice. This article explains the many steps that
took place in order to make this program a reality.
Restorative justice, an emerging niche in the practice of law, is
a set of principles that encourage engagement between parties after
a criminal act, and seeks to assess the harm and determine what can
be done to repair it, while holding the offender accountable for
their actions. In the restorative justice framework, harm is
understood as between members of a community, not between actors
and the state. The restorative justice model differs from the
traditional, more adversarial approach in four key ways. First,
participation must be entirely voluntary for all parties. Second,
the process focuses on the harm created by the offense, rather than
seeking to prove the occurrence of the offense itself. Third, the
responsible party must acknowledge that their harmful act created
an obligation to the impacted party and the larger community.
Fourth, the responsible party must engage in a reparative process
with the impacted party, their family, school and community, rather
than being punished in isolation by the state. Restorative justice
aims to reestablish the personal and community relationships that
For seven years, the Legal Skills in Social Context (LSSC) program
at Northeastern University School of Law (NUSL) has invested
considerable human capital into better understanding restorative
justice's value to the field of law, and researching how its
principles can be implemented in legislation, school discipline and
court diversion. As the director of Legal Skills in Social Context
and the Social Justice Program (LSSC) at NUSL, Professor Susan
Maze-Rothstein has facilitated and directed nearly 100 students
since 2006 to complete five distinct LSSC projects, numerous
independent study assignments and nearly 12,000 hours of
LSSC research has shown that school discipline has become
increasingly punitive and adversarial, funneling children and youth
more rapidly into the criminal justice system. The JCRJD program
grew out of this work and continues to help bring restorative
justice into practice.
JCRJD began its work in Middlesex County, in large part because of
the cross-agency collaborations and the demonstrated level of need
in the community. The support in Middlesex, and specifically the
city of Lowell, was fostered by First Justice Jay Blitzman and
included a variety of stakeholders, such as the District Attorney's
Office, Public Defender's Office, the public school system, police
department and several nonprofit community organizations that
attended monthly "School Court" meetings at the Juvenile Court. In
2008, after seeing a sharp increase in the number of youth
arraigned in Juvenile Court and understanding that a tarnished
record can create a whole new set of challenges for young people,
this collaborative set out to identify alternative methods for
addressing the needs of youth and families. The LSSC program
further supported the work of "School Court" meetings through its
dedicated research in 2010 for Associate Justice Leslie Harris of
Suffolk County and First Justice Jay Blitzman of Middlesex County.
One result of these many efforts was the new partnership with JCRJD
as another resource for the juvenile court.
Over the last few years, JCRJD has become recognized as a positive
option for responding to cases in the Middlesex County Juvenile
Court in Lowell. JCRJD's executive director is attorney Erin V.
Freeborn, an expert in restorative justice practices. Freeborn is
also a member of the Massachusetts Restorative Justice
Collaborative and the strategic team coordinating support for
Senate Bill 52, An Act to Promote Restorative Practices.
JCRJD's primary facilitator at this time is Janet Connors, a
restorative justice practitioner, and a homicide support services
consultant at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital. Connors realized the
value of restorative justice in her own life when she met with some
of the men who pled guilty to killing her son in 2001. She is
widely considered one of the best practitioners in the
JCRJD is also supported by an active board of directors, which
includes two Juvenile Court judges as advisory members and other
professionals with relevant experience in nonprofit organizational
development, fundraising and community organizing: Professor Susan
Maze-Rothstein, Liza Hirsch, Jeff Coots, Roy Karp and Amanda
JCRJD's primary partner is the Middlesex District Attorney's
Office. JCRJD and Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan recently
received support from the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of
Justice Programs as awarded by the Massachusetts Executive Office
of Public Safety and Security to accomplish their restorative
justice cases.1 District Attorney Ryan supports
restorative justice programs because they "require offenders to
take responsibility for their actions, listen to the victims, and
take active and concrete steps to make amends to the victim and
community." Her support has been invaluable for JCRJD and the
institutionalization of restorative justice and has positioned
Middlesex County as a leader in the state.
JCRJD's mission is to keep at-risk youth in school and out of
juvenile detention by offering a restorative justice program that
addresses the underlying causes of conflict and true impact of
crime on communities. JCRJD's goals include:
- To provide at-risk youth in Massachusetts with an alternative
to the court process.
- To provide a path to justice that is inclusive of victims'
voices and needs.
- To empower youth to be agents for positive change in their
- To train community partners about the principles and practices
of restorative justice.
JCRJD is an exciting alternative resource for the juvenile court
system because it has the unique opportunity to consider cultural
differences and socioeconomic impacts when addressing an offense.
It is able to address the root causes behind an event because
restorative justice shifts the paradigm with which we evaluate an
event away from what laws have been broken, who did it, and what
punishment does he/she deserve. The paradigm shifts to ask: who has
been hurt, what are their needs, and whose obligations are these?
JCRJD can then create a case-specific reparation agreement focused
on accountability and support. This individually-tailored solution
identifies people and systems to support a young person as they
make amends, helping fulfill one of the organizations primary
missions - reducing recidivism.
JCRJD also recently partnered with the Lowell Police Department to
conduct trainings in restorative justice and help law enforcement
officers understand the process for identifying cases, making
referrals and participating in restorative justice meetings. Almost
1,000 police officers from 33 departments, spanning Middlesex,
Essex and Suffolk counties, have attended trainings since September
According to data provided by the Lowell Police Department, from
2009-2011, an average of 407 young people were arrested per year.
The primary offense categories were crimes against the person
(136), nuisance crimes (68) and property crimes (62). JCRJD accepts
referrals from all of these categories and will be able to reach
more cases as law enforcement officers are trained about this new
option and how to flag cases.
JCRJD's objective referral criteria offer diversion to young
people of all races and socioeconomic status. This model is highly
replicable and has the potential for scale across Massachusetts.
JCRJD has expanded its geographic outreach beyond the Lowell area.
In 2014, JCRJD intends to accept referrals from the entire
Middlesex County and focus on partnership building that will lead
to referrals from surrounding counties. This special initiative has
the potential to change the face of juvenile justice for hundreds
of youth and community members in the coming years. JCRJD's
intervention with first-time offenders aims to make a young
person's first encounter with the court their last and JCRJD's
community involvement after a crime aims to increase victim
satisfaction and feelings of public safety.
Today, the legal community in Massachusetts has widely accepted
restorative justice as an effective and impactful framework to use
after a harmful act. For example, Middlesex County Juvenile Court
has embraced restorative justice as a diversion option and the
Boston Public School Committee has incorporated restorative justice
into the Disciplinary Code. Additionally, restorative justice is
the subject of pending legislation on Beacon Hill, in Senate Bill
52, An Act to Promote Restorative Practices, which would provide
restorative justice options for adults in the court system as well
as juveniles. If you are interested in supporting this work,
getting involved with restorative justice in Massachusetts, or
learning more about the work of the Juvenile Court Restorative
Justice Diversion program, please contact Erin V. Freeborn or visit
- Federal grant # 2012-JB-FX-0042 The opinions, findings,
conclusions and recommendations expressed in this publication are
those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of
the state or the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice