I have always thought of the concept of restorative justice as an alternate way to deal with a non-violent crime. It keeps offenders, especially youth, out of jail through a judge-mediated process that aims to restore the human dignity of both the person who has been offended and the person who is the offender. Honestly, I have never seen it in action either in a court or in a more informal setting, but recently I had the opportunity to see it unfold very close to home.
In October, I was having dinner at Shaker Pointe with some of our sisters when the fire alarm went off. It was incredibly loud and lasted until the source of the alarm was found. Needless to say, we finished our dinner very quickly! Some of the residents were extremely bothered and frightened by the piercing noise. It turned out to be a deliberately set false alarm. The alarm itself was pulled from the wall in the vestibule of one of the entrances. A few days later, the same incident was repeated.
Thanks to the video surveillance cameras and with the aid of the local police, the offenders, two pre-adolescent boys, students at a nearby middle school, were identified. Kathryn Welden, the Director of Shaker Pointe, and Mary Anne Rodgers, CSJ, Resident Coordinator, did not want the boys criminally charged because of their age, but wanted another way to hold them accountable for their actions. The boys and their parents were asked to come separately to meet with Kathryn and Sister Mary Anne. At this meeting, the seriousness of the offense and the consequences were clearly explained. The families agreed to a restorative justice process which included:
- Each boy was asked to write a letter of apology to the residents. They then met with a group of residents to read their letters and hear how their actions affected many residents.
- Each boy completed eight hours of community service at Shaker Pointe. This included washing the first floor windows around the common spaces of the building.
- The two boys attended an open house and demonstration at the Latham Volunteer
Firehouse. During this meeting, a group of the firefighters discussed the seriousness of their
actions and how they put the residents at Shaker Pointe, the firefighters and the broader
community at risk.
At the end of the process, Sister Mary Anne praised the boys for completing the whole program and said she trusted them to learn from this experience. These boys were 12 years old; this process is so much better than even a short stint in a juvenile detention facility or requiring their parents to pay for damages with little involvement of the boys. Will it bear lasting fruit in the lives of these boys? We certainly hope so. Regardless, it puts our CSJ charism of reconciliation into practice at a sponsored ministry.