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Restorative justice was the topic of the May 9 meeting of The Evanston Alliance to End Violence, held in the Parasol Room of the Civic Center. Restorative justice is a concept that considers the entire community, as well as the specific victim, as damaged by an antisocial act or act of violence.
The person who committed the act is brought into a circle that includes community members and the specific victim. Listening and speaking in turn, both sides come to an understanding of how the damage can be repaired and balance restored to the community. Members of the circle in turn hold a “talking piece,” which serves not just to enable the holder to speak but to remind everyone in the circle that each will have a time to speak.
Restorative Justice Evanston, a volunteer non-for-profit organization, facilitates peace-seeking alternatives with its community peace circles, and the movement is spreading: There are sharing circles at several District 65 schools, peer juries at Evanston Township High School and the family group conferring circle at the Evanston Police Department.
At the sharing circles in the elementary schools, children are taught to “listen from their hearts,” one facilitator said.
Patrice Quehl of the Evanston Police Department said, “One of the pieces [of restorative justice] is teaching kids competency – to speak up and own their behavior and talk about how to make it right.”
Susan Trieschmann, who began the restorative justice movement here and founded Restorative Justice Evanston, operates her Curt’s Café on Central Street under restorative justice principles.
She said the employees, who have been involved in the criminal justice system, hold each other accountable in circles, but they also have “circles of celebration,” acknowledging positive choices and actions.
Ms. Trieschmann said one criticism of restorative justice has been that it lets kids off easy. But she added that apologizing to someone and acknowledging harmful behavior can be difficult. “Most kids would rather have a two-day suspension,” she said.
Curt’s Café already has a partnership with the Moran Center, which provides legal and social-work services to low-income youth. “One of our dreams is to have a program for kids coming out of jail to sit down with the community and tell them what they need to feel welcomed back – and have the community tell what it needs before they would be welcomed,” Ms. Trieschmann said.
Anyone who wishes to contact Restorative Justice Evanston can email firstname.lastname@example.org, Ms. Trieschmann said. She will lead a demonstration of a community circle at 6:30 p.m. on May 27 at Curt’s Café, 2922 Central St.