To me, restorative justice means supporting communities through the powerful process of reconciliation; offering all parties opportunities to practice accountability, self-forgiveness, and personal empowerment; and engaging in dialogue across systems to mitigate trauma and create foundations of resilience. During my time in Washington and Oregon, I had the honor of collaborating with the judicial system, State and local governments, and community based nonprofits to advance social justice and heal and improve community health.
I began restorative justice work as a volunteer sexual assault victims’ advocate. My work with survivors of violence largely centered on mapping out the criminal justice process and advocating for survivors’ voices in the justice process from criminal act to post-incarceration. My passion for restorative justice work and criminal justice reform was furthered when I helped run a Mentoring Children of Prisoners (MCP) grant program for Goodwill Industries of the Inland Northwest. At MCP, I collaborated with the Federal Family and Youth Services Bureau, Department of Corrections, Juvenile Justice, faith based organizations, and local job programs to provide support for families of incarcerated men and women, and help end the intergenerational cycle of imprisonment. While the program ended in 2011 due to Federal budget cuts, it is wonderful to see that many of the relationships we helped start and the youth we served continue to thrive today.
When MCP ended, I accepted an offer to helm SAFE of Columbia County (SAFE), a domestic and sexual violence intervention agency in Northwest Oregon. For four years, I worked with an incredible Board of Directors and staff of advocates to stabilize the once struggling nonprofit and build a reputation for professionalism and excellence by empowering survivors and delivering strong community-based education programs.
At SAFE, I worked with the Columbia County Local Public Safety Coordinating Council (LPSCC) to implement a Justice Reinvestment process aimed at improving public safety, reducing recidivism, and mitigating the trauma inflicted by the criminal justice system. The process was made possible by Oregon’s Criminal Justice Commission (CJC), which instead of funding a new prison invested the intended funding into evidence-based community interventions, mental health, victims’ advocacy, and restorative justice programs. The CJC’s experiment was a success similar to Justice Reinvestment projects in 30 states. Participating in this process also allowed me to attend two Justice Reinvestment Summits and the Seattle University Domestic Violence Summit, where I learned “next practices” from leaders in this movement across the United States. These learning spaces provided me tools, language, and models to implement change in the local community.
In Columbia County, we pursued parenting education partnerships for justice-involved parents and strengthened the relationship between the jail and community mental health. The process also brought diverse stakeholders within the public safety system to the table to map out our local justice system from criminal act to post-release, and strategize key interventions at every intersection with the purpose of healthfully addressing ciminogenic issues in the community. This led to the planning process for Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program similar to Seattle and Portland’s, which diverts low-level drug and property offenders into community-based services and treatment rather than jail or prison.
In response to violent crime, I collaborated with Community Corrections to support treatment programs for domestic violence and sexual assault offenders and survivors. One of the successes of this collaboration is Domestic Violence Safe Dialogues (DVSD), which allows survivors to openly, safely discuss their experiences with offenders, increasing empathy and accountability within the offender group. This promising restorative justice model is now required as part of offender treatment in Columbia County. SAFE’s collaboration with Community Corrections is also novel in its recognition of the shared experiences of trauma that often lead to criminal pathways, often as a means of survival. As director of SAFE, I supported providing an advocate for treatment groups as well as co-facilitating a Trauma Recovery and Empowerment Model (TREM) for justice-involved women as a way to address root causes and support healing and community connection.
While I was sad to leave an amazingly resourceful and supportive community, I left confident that our strategic plan, policies, and formal partnerships will help guide the community toward achieving its goals.