Georgia’s First After School and Youth Development Conference

The first Georgia After School and Youth Development Conference is taking place in Athens, Ga. January 9 – 11. The event was organized by GUIDE, Gwinnet United in Drug Education, Inc., and supported by the state’s Department of Human Services, the Governor’s Office for Children and Families, and the Department of Education. I was fortunate to be able to attend part of the conference on Thursday, and to sit down with a few of the presenters. The focus of the conference, embodied in the theme “Together towards Tomorrow,” is a set of unified standards for after school and summer programs that will enable the government, providers, and grant makers to make decisions based on the latest evidence about what really works.

Restorative Justice Practices Should not be Treated like a Commodity

I was sitting with my brother in law watching television a few nights ago. It was late and we had been busy all day with Christmas stuff. I had made some hot apple cider with a little Irish whiskey, and we sipped it as we watched an old movie. A long commercial came on advertising the benefits of a national chain of cancer treatment centers. I remarked on how strange it seems to me that something like medical care is treated like a commodity, to the point of needing a slick ad campaign.

A Long Restorative Road to Justice and Graduation

Almost 18 months ago I wrote my first opinion piece. Predictably perhaps, it was about restorative justice, the topic I have covered the most. Today, if I can manage to get myself together, I will drive to Kennesaw State University and receive a master’s degree in conflict management. Yesterday, I hurried to work at the Georgia Conflict Center, scrambling as usual to get my final plans in place for the day’s work. I spent nearly two hours at the high school where my colleague Gwen O’Looney and I have been meeting with students this semester.

When a Few Kids Step Forward

“All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing,” is perhaps the most often quoted statement of Edmund Burke, an Irish philosopher and politician. In fact, the origin of the quote is unknown, and no definitive source can directly attribute it to Burke. Nevertheless, it matches the spirit of much of his writing. In some versions of the quote “few” is placed before men. I like to think that this version is true, that just a few people standing up for what is right can make a difference.

A Thanksgiving Reflection: How Advocacy Can Make a Difference

Early this week, I was having Thanksgiving dinner with my fiancée. She is on her way home for the holiday, and I am staying in Georgia to work on my final paper for school and take care of a few other tasks, so we shared the meal a few days early. Before we began to eat, we took a few moments to talk about what we have been grateful for this past year. It was a pretty long list for both of us, and touched on our relationships, our work, good health, and many other things. It seems that gratitude has been coming up a lot in my life lately, in discussions with friends and online.

Pondering the Limits of Criminal Justice Reform

On Monday I spoke via Skype with a group of students enrolled at Georgetown University. Some friends of mine teach a class on social justice and conflict studies. Twice I have joined the class to discuss my own experiences with the criminal justice system, restorative justice, my current work, and any other insightful (and difficult) questions they come up with. Several wondered how prison could be changed to address issues of safety and violence, and whether or not restorative responses still allowed for incarceration. These are interesting topics to me, and I am able to talk about them with ease, but a few questions left me pondering the limits of criminal justice reform.

Alternative Schools Should Not be like Prison

People don’t smoke in school anymore – at least they aren’t supposed to. My office is near an open campus high school, and I see a kid sneaking a cigarette from time to time. Nobody chews tobacco either, or (presumably) has a knife in their pocket. At my high school in south Georgia some kids had gun racks in their trucks, and they had real guns in them. One thing we lacked, unlike today, was a police presence in the school. Another was an alternative school.

Victims’ Rights and Restorative Justice: Is There a Common Ground?

Frequently writing and speaking about youth justice issues, especially restorative justice, has at times seemingly put me at odds with those who advocate for victims’ rights. Earlier this year I was in Washington, D.C., and met with members of a well-known group that lobbies for juvenile justice reform. They have opposed juvenile life without parole, harsh sentences, and adult transfer, while advocating for community based approaches and rehabilitation efforts to youth who have committed crimes. As we were discussing my own interest in restorative justice, one of them expressed to me his doubts that those working for victims’ rights could ever work together with those seeking reform of the justice system. I was surprised, since one of the foundations of restorative justice is supposed to be that it is victim centered, and that harm to the victim is what must be addressed first in any attempt to respond to crime.

Juveniles with Mandatory Life Sentences Should be Resentenced

The recent decision (reported here by the L.A. Times) by the U.S. Supreme Court to ban mandatory juvenile life without parole has been rightly celebrated as a victory by activists and others interested in progressive policies. The ruling has left many scratching their heads in its wake though, mostly because the court ruled the sentences unconstitutional, but did not directly assign a process for revisiting the cases, many of which are decades old. A few opponents to the ruling are even contending that it cannot be applied retroactively. Youth Radio interviewed Jennifer Bishop, the President of the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Lifers. Ms. Bishop, who has previously written for JJIE, is a victims’ rights advocate whose group focuses on those most affected by juvenile murderers: families.

When the Fear Returns

The first time I saw a stabbing victim was my second day in prison. I heard screams coming from the hallway, and then an officer came into view, dragging a prisoner by his shirt. The victim was moaning in pain and the officer was asking him who “stuck” him. I stood holding the bars, watching the scene with a kind of detachment that made it surreal. I was terribly frightened.