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Ripple Effect

A community-outreach program Aug. 24 and courses this fall aim to expand Silver City's pioneering Restorative Justice program.

 

A peaceful-looking place on Bullard Street in downtown Silver City, the Restorative Justice Community Center of Southwestern New Mexico is coming into its own. With a few cozy furnishings, a conference table and some office basics, the Silver City office opened in July 2004 with state funding from the district court system and a staff of one—Stéphane Tristorff Luchini, a trained mediator from Albuquerque. (See the October 2004 Desert Exposure.) It is one of only two such programs in the state.

Two years later, with eight mediators on staff, the organization has a number of success stories under its belt and is growing with referrals from the Juvenile Probation and Parole Office (JPPO) and the Teen Court. Plus some members of the public have also used the center's services to heal wrongs and improve community relations. These community involvements are evaluated on a case-by-case basis,

But Luchini says the organization is still working on realizing one of his big goals: to serve as a walk-in center for restoration and conflict resolution. He says, "In one year, I'd like to see anyone who walks through that door be able to get the (mediation) services they want."

To get there, more practitioners are needed, Luchini says. Hoping to add to its roster, the center will offer a series of training sessions in mediation process and techniques in September and October. Kay Pranis, a renowned author and expert in circle processes and conflict resolution, will return to teach some of the classes, a repeat of her presentation for the center back in March. There will be classes in the three types of restorative-justice techniques: mediation, circle hosting and conference facilitation.

Mediators require 40 hours of education in technique and practices, and an additional 16 hours in the principles of restorative justice. Circle hosts go through 29 hours of training, including the restorative-justice principles, and conference facilitators go through 20 hours of total training. All practitioners with the Restorative Justice program must ascribe to its principles and values. Practitioners participate in ongoing sessions every six weeks, for support and further education.

In a nutshell, here's how restorative justice works: The center receives a referral or a request. A program representative contacts the parties involved in the conflict—both offenders and victims of the offense. Individual confidential pre-meeting caucuses are held with the parties involved to assess the level and nature of the conflict. Once all parties agree to go through that process, a mediation session, conference or circle is held.

A free presentation will be offered on August 24 at WNMU's GRC conference rooms, from 6:30-8:30 p.m., for the public to learn basic background about the Restorative Justice Community Center program, goals and initiatives. This will be an opportunity to learn about the restorative justice process, course offerings and opportunities to play a contributing role.

Upcoming courses include:

Basic Mediation Training—Sept. 8-10 and 16-17, 8 a.m.-5 p.m., 40 hours. Restorative Justice Community Center, 505 N. Bullard, Suite A. $500.

Restorative Justice Training Part 1—Sept. 22, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. WNMU GRC Conference Rooms. $50.

Restorative Justice Training Part 2—Sept. 23, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. WNMU GRC Conference Rooms. $40.

Circle Processes Training—Oct. 3-6, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., 32 hours. WNMU Besse Forward Global Resource Center. $450.

"This is not a rehab approach," Luchini says. "Restorative Justice is not offender-based." In the criminal-justice system, the offender is sought, tried and punished. In restorative justice, dialogues are opened and victims and offenders meet face to face, often with other community members present. Conditions for repairing the harm done are determined and agreed to by both sides.

A reduction in recidivism—repeat offenses—is one way to evaluate the effectiveness of the restorative-justice concept. Statistics show a 60 percent recidivism reduction in young offenders who go through community conferencing methods. Conferencing is one arm of the restorative justice process. One-on-one mediation sessions and mediated "talking circles," which can incorporate ceremonial objects such as "talking sticks," and draw from the peace-making methods employed by ancient peoples, are two more tools for enhancing listening and understanding.

"Often, through the process of hearing each other, attitudes shift," Luchini says. He gives the example of a juvenile arrested for graffiti. At the outset, it might appear to be a crime that doesn't really harm anyone. But a conference setting, where the offender has to face members of the community and listen to how they felt about the damage—that their neighborhood was defaced, that a homeowner was deprived of the enjoyment of his property, that they feared other crimes of violence—puts a human face and personal cost on the crime.

So too, the victims often are touched and changed by meeting the offender. Luchini recounts the experience of one victim who, after hearing the story of the offender and seeing the offender's genuine contrition, refused monetary retribution for the damages he'd sustained. "He said, 'I don't want the money. I just want you to do the community service.' It was more important to him that (the offender) do something positive for another person in the community.

"That's real transformation, real healing," he adds, "when the parties get to that point."

—Donna Clayton Lawder         

 

For registration, course details and more information on the program, email rjcc@rjnm.org, call 534-0336, or see www.rjnm.org.

 

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