Imagine this: you’re in high school. One morning, you’re surprised in the girls’ bathroom by a classmate assaulting you so seriously that you end up in the hospital. That’s what happened to “Evelyn,” an 11th grader, when her classmate “Olivia” (names have been changed) gave in to peer pressure and retaliated against Evelyn for an earlier issue. Olivia was immediately suspended, but instead of being sent to the district attorney for criminal charges, the school police officer made a case referral to CCEJ’s restorative youth diversion process.
Case manager Rachel remembers, “Evelyn and her family were so surprised when I called them to talk about our restorative process. No one from school or the police had followed up after the assault to ask if they wanted counseling or other support. That’s a pretty universal experience for victims – most of the system’s resources go towards punishing the responsible youth.” For several months, CCEJ staff and Healing Harms volunteers met with each family to talk about the assault’s impact on the girls, their families, and their school. CCEJ staff asked Olivia to reflect on her actions and take accountability, which she was able to do with the loving but firm support from her parents and brother. Staff also worked with Evelyn to determine what a just outcome to the case might be.
Evelyn didn’t want Olivia to go to jail. Instead, she wanted Olivia to understand the harm she had caused and pay for clothes which were damaged in the attack. During the final restorative circle dialogue, Rachel read a letter from Evelyn which expressed her feelings about the assault and her concern that Olivia’s friends would continue to target her. Olivia agreed to pay for the clothes and promised that the bullying would not continue.
Since 2013, CCEJ has diverted more than 325 young people from court, jail and probation. Our diversion program help young people take responsibility for their actions, and also helps victims heal. Evelyn shares that, “Working with CCEJ was a great experience – not once did you make me do something I wasn’t comfortable with. I feel like I got closure. I was able to know how the incident affected me as much as other people. I would recommend the restorative process to another person who has been a victim of a crime because although what we went through was hard, sometimes talking about it can help us to feel more at ease and move on.”
CCEJ’s Restorative Youth Diversion program causes a ripple effect of healing not only for the victim of crime and her family, but also for the person who did harm and their family. Olivia’s family committed to spending more time together so she would be more resilient against peer pressure in the future. Olivia’s parents shared that their son was also in a fight with a classmate, but he ended up with a probation sentence: “Probation was so intimidating and caused our family a lot of worry. But with CCEJ, we realized that we could express ourselves, laugh and cry with you, which made our experience feel more healing.”
For more information about our Restorative Youth Diversion program, visit our program page here: https://www.cacej.org/cause/rpic/.