In 1997, two Concord community leaders, Jean Bell and Joan Turner, organized a community forum on restorative justice. When 230 interested people showed up, they knew they were onto something. a prominent partner emerged: Concord Police Chief Len Wetherbee. He asserted, “The undertaking is enormous… but we’re not going to let this drop.”
Communities for Restorative Justice (C4RJ) is now a nonprofit partnership of community members and police departments that offer restorative justice in the wake of crime. C4RJ took its first case in 2000 and has since offered restorative justice in hundreds of cases in the metro Northwest region of Boston. C4RJ is driven by scores of trained volunteers, is guided by a 13-member board, and employs Executive Director Jennifer Larson Sawin and support staff. Their aim is to provide a process by which victims are heard and understood, offenders understand the consequences of their actions and take responsibility for harm, and where loved ones and community members offer support.
One criminal incident involved four youths painting offensive graffiti, including a swastika and drug references, on a public building. C4RJ brought together in four circles a victim, a member of the local synagogue who spoke about the meaning of the swastika symbol; a youth offender, who told the story of what happened; a trained C4RJ volunteer and a law enforcement officer. In one case, a powerful lesson was taught on the function of a “look-out” when the Jewish representative pointed to thousands who knew about the Holocaust but tragically failed to raise alarm. By the end of each meeting, the group had worked towards a plan of repair.
That plan included landscaping at the synagogue alongside congregants, visiting the Holocaust memorial in Boston, community service at a Jewish retirement home, restoring public park benches defaced by other youth, and developing face-saving lines to escape/prevent harm in the future (e.g., “I can’t do this. I’m meeting my brother for basketball.”). In one case, a youth secured a summer job at his community service site. another youth continued to volunteer hours well beyond the requirements contained in the plan of repair.
In anonymous evaluations after this case, the parties were pleased that the crime “had a face,” both on the offender side and the victim side. Real boys – with a desire to belong, to make an impact in the world – caused this harm. and real victims – people who had lost loved ones under the swastika symbol – were affected by that harm. Without a restorative justice option, the police would have had to arrest the boys and they would have appeared before a judge who may have imposed a sentence. Afterwards, one boy said, “I learned that it’s never too late to do the right thing.” To learn more, volunteer or donate to the work of C4RJ, please visit www.c4rj.com.