PROGRAMMING OFFERED THROUGH WINONA COUNTY RESTORATIVE JUSTICE:
YOUTH DIVERSION PROGRAMS
Simply defined, diversion is an effort to keep youths away from the court system and off probation. Winona County offers four options for diverting youth and Restorative Justice works primarily with two types of diversion.
- Community Group Conferences
First-time, low-level juvenile offenders can be deemed eligible to participate in a community group conference, which aims to respond to harmful behaviors in a way that includes offenders, victims and community members. The County Attorney’s Office reviews citations and refers youths to Restorative Justice when appropriate. The process includes many steps to ensure a productive experience for all participants. Pre-conference interviews are scheduled with offenders and victims to determine participation. Offenders must admit to allegations and waive their right to a court hearing. In doing so, they have the chance to have charges put on hold while keeping a conviction off their record. Victims play an essential role in the process yet it can be difficult for them to participate. We work diligently to meet the needs of the victims in every way possible. In the end, however, it gives them a chance to move past harmful incidents in a way that typically promotes more healing than the traditional justice system. We strive to have victims participate and also include key community stakeholders. The conference is then scheduled and is held in Circle format. This allows more effective communication for repairing the harm caused while holding offenders accountable in a way that looks for remorse not shame. The final portion of the conference is determining a diversion agreement for the youths involved. It must be a consensus agreement and the juveniles have six months to complete terms. If terms are met, they are discharged successfully and they will not have a conviction on their juvenile records. If terms are not met or another offense is committed while within the program, it is considered a failed diversion and a court date is scheduled.
- Truancy Diversion
Students who have truancy petitions filed against them by a school can be deemed eligible to participate in a diversion program designed, again, to keep them out of truancy court and off probation. This program was taken on by Restorative Justice during the 2015-16 school year and has become a widely-used option to find alternative ways to hold students accountable for their school attendance. These diversions are more informal compared to community group conferences, but still involve diversion agreements developed at a meeting with key stakeholders. The idea is to bring in students and their parents/guardians to meet with school staff and Restorative Justice, and determine a plan that will hold students accountable and promote a stronger connection to their academic pursuits. Attendance is monitored throughout the remainder of the school year and regular school visits are scheduled to check in on progress. If attendance improves and that improvement is maintained, students are discharged successfully at the end of the school year. However, if improvements are not made, it is considered a failed diversion and a court date will be scheduled.
OTHER SERVICES PROVIDED
Restorative Justice offers many other programs to make a difference in the lives of youths in Winona County.
- Early Intervention Programming
- Truancy Conferencing addresses the needs of students on the verge of truancy charges being filed with the goal of correcting the problem before it becomes a legal matter. This effort was established at the start of the 2013-14 school year.
- Conflict Resolution Circles work to resolve conflicts before they lead to fights and long-standing feuds. This program works well in the school setting and can prevent youth from being charged with assault and disorderly conduct stemming from school fights.
- School Circles are offered to all schools as an ongoing community-building program designed to work with groups of students at regular intervals. The idea is to build relationships between peers and promote a cooperative learning environment. Creative lesson planning looks to address pertinent issues in the lives of teens, such as bullying, peer pressure, substance abuse and healthy relationships. The possibilities of this program are virtually limitless.
- Restorative Justice Mentoring
The Mentoring program offers one-on-one mentoring by providing youth ages 10-18 with a positive, caring adult mentor. Referrals are made to the program through probation officers. Mentors are over the age of 18 years and are required to go through reference and background checks. Free-of-cost training is provided and a one-year commitment is required. Group activities are coordinated throughout the year and all participants are encouraged to attend. While we strive to have fun with the group, the ultimate goal is to educate youths on healthy lifestyle choices.
- Community Work Service
The Community Work Service Program is designed to provide juveniles with the opportunity to repair harm they have caused to those around them and the greater community. The program offers juveniles an encouraging atmosphere that includes positive work service tasks that are both educational and meaningful. The overall goal of the Community Work Service Program is accountability to the community and payment of restitution to victims. Restorative Justice Coordinators and community volunteer mentors supervise the crew at various sites throughout the area, and it is a great way to get to know the kids on a deeper level through hard work and camaraderie.
4. Life Skills
Life Skills is a thirteen week course provided at no cost to high school students in Winona County. Life Skills was taken on by the Restorative Justice Program during the 2018-2019 school year. This course is designed to provide opportunities to learn more about several topics pertaining to healthy and sustainable living from various guest speakers in their area of expertise throughout the community. The goal of this class is for students to take away new knowledge and skills that can be applied in their daily lives, as well as receive one credit towards graduation at the end of the course. School staff identify students who would benefit from this course and refer them to the class. Applicants must attend weekly meetings, be open to learning and engaging with others, be 16-21 years of age and live in Winona County.
5. School Conferences
School Conferences are offered to students as an alternative-to-suspension when seen as appropriate by school administration. The conference is held with the student, parent/guardian, school supports and a Restorative Justice Coordinator in Circle format. The goal of School Conferences is to keep students in school, hold them accountable for their actions and provide them with an opportunity to talk about what happened, who it affected and how they can make things right. A behavior contract will be formed together with those who are present and must be a consensus agreement. If the student does not complete the terms listed on the behavior contract they face the possibility of being suspended for the incident in which they were referred.
A Circle is a structured process for organizing effective group communication, relationship-building, decision-making and conflict resolution. Each Circle is designed to fit the needs of the specific population being addressed. The Circle is run by a “Keeper” who monitors the movement and stimulates reflection of the group through questions and topic suggestions. A talking piece is used as a way of helping all participants communicate respectfully with one another. This ensures that everyone has the opportunity participate in the discussion. The purpose of the Circle is to bring people together as equals while having honest exchanges about sometimes difficult issues.