Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Juvenile corrections could be next venue for restorative justice in Texas

I've got much more to write about when I get a chance, but wanted to record this thought: In Texas, perhaps the Texas Youth Commission's transformation might be an opportunity for testing restorative justice principles in the Lone Star State.

On Sunday night, Dr. Gordon Bazemore of Florida Atlantic University spoke on the topic of restorative justice and youth crime, aiming to go "beyond treatment and punishment for juveniles." He pointed out that in US states where restorative justice initiatives had been tried, about 20, they were mostly used in juvenile justice instead of adult corrections settings. Bazemore had just returned from Northern Ireland, where he said these extra-judicial models are now the primary approach to juvenile crime, along with a number of other European countries.

As he spoke it struck me that, with the implosion in Texas juvenile corrections this spring and the "Sunset" review of the Texas Youth Commission that will be performed between now and 2009, Texas has perhaps a once in a lifetime opportunity to reinvent its juvenile justice system to implement some of these alternative models.

Indeed, some RJ programs that experts at this conference say can be documented to succeed at reducing recidivism and crime might actually be more appropriate in a juvenile setting than for adults. A "sentencing circle" for a child would inevitably include the victim and any other injured parties, parents and relatives, neighbors, church congregants, basically anyone with an interest in the child. (Sentencing circles are sometimes used in Travis County, though most juvie sentences are still decided by a judge.) By contrast, adults who may not live where they grew up and be more isolated in society might not always be as good a candidate for such peer-centered sentencing.

Radical change is possible now for Texas juvenile justice that was inconceivable a short while back. Texas youth prisons have rapidly reduced their inmate populations in a fashion that would have been a political impossibility a year ago before the TYC scandal. If something as big as reducing the inmate population by 1/3 and sending them back into the community is politically viable, surely some of these RJ ideas could be implemented which are actually popular with victims and the public.

The juvenile justice legislation Texas passed in 2007 was only preliminary. Legislators installed new oversight, but declined for the most part to address the root, structural failings nearly everyone acknowledges in the Texas juvenile justice system. That's why TYC will get a full "Sunset" review in the 81st Legislature in 2009 analyzing the agency from top to bottom and recommending reforms. I'd like to see restorative justice advocates (and to judge by this conference there are quite a few in Texas) focus some of their energies on engaging this formal, massive change process in the juvenile justice arena.

Many RJ techniques have a local component, so convincing county judges, prosecutors and probation departments to participate would be criticial. OTOH, they're struggling with unfunded mandates now from youth sent home early and the refusal of misdemeanants into TYC, so they too might be at a point where they're willing to change how they do business. It's sure worth a shot.

Some big things will change regarding Texas juvenile justice in the next legislative session, nearly without question. Whether those changes will be informed by best practices and cutting edge, victim-centered restorative justice techniques, or just a ham-handed shuffling of incarcerated youth between jurisdictions, today no one can tell. But now's the time for anyone who'd like to see RJ techniques tested in Texas to push their agenda for juveniles. You couldn't ask for a better opportunity for real change than we've got in the next two years.


Anonymous said...

How about a definition? What the heck is restorative justice? Tried to figure it out reading your posts but it eludes me.

Anonymous said...

In the world today, it never ceases to amaze me why someone would ask a question like "what is restorative justice" without attempting to look it up on the internet. GIYF.


Gritsforbreakfast said...

I'm learning more about it myself while I'm here, but it's more a values approach than a specific program. More soon, but Dr. Howard Zehr's talk in the previous post I thought defined the concept reasonably well. I'll try to give a better answer as I write up more of the conference. Thanks,

Anonymous said...

Grits, thanks so much for these posts, very enlightening and interesting stuff.

I'm just learning about RJ in recent weeks and think it is very promising. FYI, it is something juvenile justice historians are talking about, some have even suggested RJ represents a new paradigm altogether.

Bill Bush, UNLV

Anonymous said...

Hey, anon 7:22, have you even read that link? I have. Every other sentence contradicts itself. Rather than listening to a dw like yourself, I asked Grits, who is at the freaking conference. He will have a much different and most like, substantive, definition. Go you know what to yourself.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Thanks, Bill, glad to hear you're finding it useful.

And on the definition, see this Grits post and the report it's based on from the Texas Public Policy Foundation, which I should have remembered to link to earlier when you asked. Meanwhile this paraphrase from Howard Zehr from the last post gives the best general explanation I've heard yet:

Zehr said the traditional criminal justice system assumes a crime violates the law of the state, that violations create guilt, and that the state's goal should be to identify offenders and dish out punishment. The central focus is offender-driven, he said, making sure perpetrators “get what they deserve.”

Under a Restorative Justice model, violations create obligations for which offenders should be accountable. Restorative Justice asks: "Who's been hurt, what are their needs, and whose obligations are they?"

"Restorative Justice is not about forgiveness or reconciliation," he said. "That may happen but that's not what it's about. It's about letting victims and offenders reconcile differences and repair harm," said Zehr.

* * *

I'm too tired to say more tonight, and I'm still digesting some of what I've heard. But as soon as I get home I'll spend some time writing up my notes from the week. I've heard some really interesting stuff I'll be thinking about a lot going forward. I've also met a lot of impressive folks doing work that in many cases really gives me hope, a commodity in short supply in criminal justice fields. Best to all,

Anonymous said...

Great stuff grits...can't wait to hear what else you have to say about the conference.

Are you going to any of the upcoming TYC "State of the Agency" briefings? Your interpretations would be the best. How about it Grits readers? Anyone out there going to this thing? What are your thoughts? I am thinking about going, but have not yet decided.

Anonymous said...

I am sure RJ has some promise based on Grits definition. I think it will be tough to sell to the Texas politicians and the people who are running TYC. I still find it hard to believe the destruction of TYC was based on concern for the youth in TYC as much as personal agendas of several of the major players. Call me suspicious, but I do not believe most people in Texas care what happens to criminal offenders regardless of their age. I hope I am wrong about our elected official and state administrators but they have not disappointed my negative opinion of them in the last several years.

The heavy influx of TDCJ personnel into TYC will make it very difficult to move to a RJ Model. The resistance will be massive from the current TYC administration as they are grounded in a punitive adult corrections system. Also I think TYC will self destruct before the next Legislative Session. From the information I receive on a weekly basis TYC is a sinking ship with Captain Blye at the helm. The remaining units have staff leaving for more safe and secure jobs. The crisis at TYC is far from over, it is just beginning!

RJ seems like a promising approach to justice for the victim. It appears to be a solution based system which is a paradigm shift for Texas Criminal Justice! The ever expanding prison business will not take kindly to RJ because it could cut into one of the cash cows, the prison industry. In Texas money talks and RJ walks! I can hear it now; they are just convicts, we have good people trying to make a living. What the hell are you folks trying to do with this RJ crap?

On another note I hear Captain Blye is requiring all TYC CO staff to log out of their work stations if they leave their desk for any reason. I went to pee and get a drink is vital information needed by the new chief administrator at TYC. I would think she has much more pressing issues to deal with instead of trying to micro-manage staff that is already looking to leave TYC.

Just look at the low quality of the people selected to run TYC and you know nothing like RJ will ever be successfully implemented.

I hate to be such a downer but Grits come back to the real world. RJ is not going to happen at TYC unless the people currently in charge are fired like the ones before them and replaced with professionals in the field of juvenile justice. Again I hope I am so very wrong and the sow’s ear can be made into a silk purse.

Anonymous said...

How would it be received in Texas if RJ was used more, but by doing so, some sentences became lighter/shorter? I am thiking of crimes within families particularly, and as you now have the legislation that disuades families from reporting abuse for example, would it be a case of RJ for some but not for all? Would that be fair?

If the victims are also family members, and they dont want the criminal to go to prison for as long as 'outsiders' do, who will be listened to?

Anonymous said...

Will restorative justice be the new term for victim empathy?

Anonymous said...

11:42 You have a very good point! Too bad Resocialization has been dumped. It would work very well with RJ. Please remember Resocialization was too case worker intensive and non-degreed people could not effectivly provide delivery of service. Remember we have low standards in Texas which need to be maintained!

Anonymous said...

Before he b/c famous for indicting the Speaker of the House, your own Texan, Travis Co. DA Ronnie Earle gained a reputation as a pioneer in the Restorative Justice movement. He was trying it out before it really had much movement in policy circles.

Anonymous said...

The evidence is overwhelming that restorative justice does bear long-term benefits. That said, after closely watching the shenanigans of our elected leaders with regard to the TYC over the past 12 years, I find it hard to believe they would accept any real restorative justice approach to juvenile justice. The person who stated that Resocialization would make a good match with RJ is correct. However, Resocialization failed because we tried to do it on the cheap. Three legislative sessions in a row resulted in cuts to TYC's budget, while the TYC population steadily increased. The former TYC leadership did not have the cajones to stand up to the legislature and tell them, clearly and unequivically, that warehousing teenagers in big open-bay dorms with minimal staff supervision does not work!

RJ, as with anything else worth doing, is only worth doing if we are willing to spend what it takes to do it right. RJ is a long-term solution. Politicians want quick-fixes.

Anonymous said...

"Resocialization done cheap" did not work, absolutely correct. When the groups that supported resocialization were cut, huddle ups altered, resoc assignments taken out of ICP's and behavior groups became mambee/pambee forums of aimless attempts, Resocializaiton had no chance to work. Putting it entirely on the caseworker did nothing but burden their load and hinder treatment.

Victim empathy works when it is done right. The impact of victim panels or just a speaker does make one think about their actions and how it affects others. But even that fell way to budget cuts and the bleeding hearts that thought it was too harsh for the youth to hear from the victims.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

To 10:58, when are the TYC state of the agency briefings? I didn't know about them.

@ 12:58 - Ronnie Earle was at this conference and spoke Tuesday, and on Monday I attended an excellent workshop his wife Twila taught on Chaos Theory and Restorative Justice. I won't get to more conference writeups till tomorrow and Friday, but both are on the list.

@11:33 - I'm sure a TYC briefing will quickly bring me back to the real world, but there was a lot of Texas-based energy at the conference (in addition to folks from around the world and 60 different academic institutions), and many work on juvie stuff so I want them to be aware of the current political opportunity. Like I said, something will happen, for good or ill. Half of politics is showing up.

To Sunray's Wench, you've hit on a good point that wasn't addressed much at the conference, but I will have more to say on it soon.

@2:09 - RJ is really more than just victim impact statements, it's actually giving the victim the opportunity (and responsibility) of participating in deciding the outcome. Who knows how it will fly, but it's working in some places, notably Adelaide Australia, about which I'll have more to say soon.

Thanks to everybody who helped finance the conference for me. I can't tell you how humbled and appreciative I am at the response - I raised everything I needed for the trip plus a little bonus, which one donor suggested I use to take the beleaguered Mrs. Grits to dinner to make up for having to put up with me. So tonight I will. Best to all,

Anonymous said...

the state of the agency meetings can be found on the TYC website

The Geography Lady said...

when I was a Juvenile Probation Officer in W Tx, we brought in people to teach victim-offender mediation to community members, with the idea that juveniles convicted of property crimes would go through the process. We ended up having so few property crimes that the program died.
The idea was wonderful, and I hope it catches on in other places. We funded our training somehow through mental health monies (one of the movers-and-shakers worked for MHMR) and a local Presbyterian church.
The community was really enthusiastic, and if not for the drop in crime, the program would have been a sucess.

Anonymous said...

A drop in crime caused the program to fail? Maybe it worked better than you knew Geo lady!

Anonymous said...

TYC "State of the Agency" briefings are being held in several locales. It will be in Austin on Wednesday, 07/11/07, 9:00 a.m to 12:00 p.m., @ Workforce Solutions Center off Airport Blvd. You can RSVP to 512-424-6248. Hurry, I have heard it is filling up quickly. Best.

Anonymous said...

I disagree with the person who maintains that people without degrees cannot conduct good resocialization groups. I have supervised PSWs with degrees and without degrees, and without a doubt the two best group leaders I had were highly intelligent non-degreed people who had converted over from being JCOs. The ability to conduct groups is more a function of having the "snap" to catch on to what resocialization is all about, along with having the self-confidence to be able to run an effective group, than a matter of whether one has a degree or not. Lets face it, most Masters programs give very little time to training people in group therapy.

One of the chief problems with Resocialization is the managers with the "corrections" philosophy were not committed to it. Addionally, most Program Specialists were not well-trained, or comfortable in conducting groups, so they avoided doing the necessary training. Finally, due to overcrowding, most groups became too large to be effective.

Back to RJ. It requires a long-term commitment on the part of management. It is not a "quick-fix." It requires training, patience and most importantly, a mind-set that is sorely missing in the current management of TYC.

Anonymous said...

I attended the RJ conference and "Grits" did a great job of outlining some of the great points that were presented.

Our Juvenile system and the citizens of Texas would benefit in being pro-active with the RJ program.

Let's see if we can make it happen.