Making young people who have broken the law accountable for their actions and putting them face-to-face with their victims is a hallmark of the Lakes Area Restorative Justice Project.
The goal is to keep juveniles from re-offending and moving down a path that leads to more criminal activity and incarceration. Another goal of the justice project is to help restore a sense of community by giving victims of crimes a voice in the process.
Stephanie Haider, LARJP director of volunteer services, said a recent project that linked justice volunteers, juvenile offenders and crime victims is a prime example of the work being done. The work is aimed at driving home a point that crime has a bigger effect on the people involved and the community at large than juveniles often realize.
In March, footprints in the snow literally led Brainerd Police Officer Ron Myers from the scene of a crime to the three juveniles responsible for stealing a Mr. Buddy heater from a parked vehicle. Part of the contract the juveniles write to provide restitution for their crimes was to write letters to the Brainerd Dispatch about what they learned from facing the people they harmed by their actions.
"One of the few things that I'll regret for the rest of my life is something that I could of easily decided not to do," one of the juveniles wrote. "This thing that greatly regret has hurt people in ways I never knew my actions could have caused. The thoughtless and foolish crime was the entering of a car, that wasn't mine and the theft of a mans heater that he had worked for and needed. Realizing that my shameful actions were wrong I want to tell the story of what happened the night the crime was committed. I also wanted to tell how apologetic I am and how much I regret doing such a mindless act."
After playing video games and getting bored, the group of friends decided to get an adrenaline rush by doing what they called "car shopping" - namely looking for and taking something from a car they came across. When they crossed paths with a vehicle and no motion light came on nearby, they entered the vehicle and took the heater, which they discarded a short time after taking it.
"As we walked back to my house we saw a police officer about a block away from my house, so we kept walking," one juvenile stated in a letter. "When we arrived at my house, we went upstairs, when I jumped into bed I realized my heart was pounding! I felt exhilarated, scared, guilty, paranoid and a pure adrenaline rush! As I forced myself to sleep I started feeling more scared of getting caught, but finally my eyes shut and I fell asleep. I woke up to the sound of my dad shouting 'wake up, the police want to talk to you.' I woke up and shook my friends to wake them."
Lakes Area Restorative Justice Program, a community directed, operated and supported nonprofit organization in Crow Wing County, is seeking volunteers.
The next training sessions are 3:30-9:30 p.m. Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the Brainerd High School.
For more information, contact Stephanie Haider, LARJP director of volunteer services, at (218) 562-4926 or e-mail email@example.com.
The juveniles said the consequences of their actions brought a lost sense of safety for the victims and a loss of trust with their parents, making life more complicated.
"I didn't really realize how much of an impact our actions had until I went to the guy's house the next morning to apologize for what we had done," one of the juveniles wrote. "I could tell the guy was just really frustrated. I just felt like I couldn't apologize enough. Later on at the meeting I realized how it has affected not only him, but also his wife. He said that his wife was afraid of something being stolen again. I just felt terrible."
His friend wrote: "After this night of embarrassment I had learned my lesson and learned that it isn't right to abuse stuff that doesn't belong to you. I'm very glad that this man that I had violated and hurt had agreed to meet us and discuss what happened. In all I think that I will never do something this inconsiderate and foolish ever again."
Roger Lynn, justice project executive director, said the work - which depends on volunteers who help facilitate the meetings between juvenile offenders and their victims - is working with about 100 children a year. Between 80 and 90 percent of the juveniles in the project complete the terms of their contract and Lynn said thousands of dollars of restitution are being paid back.
A new project the nonprofit group is seeking funding for is called the Re-entry Project, which is designed to work with juveniles coming out of incarceration. It's a collaborative project with Lutheran Social Services, Bridges of Hope, Central Minnesota Community Corrections, PORT Group Homes and Thistledew. Lynn said the goal is to give the juveniles support in finding jobs and getting education so they don't end up going back and violating the law. If funding is found, Lynn said the new program may start serving children by year's end.
RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5852.
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