Restorative justice practices symposium set for May 18 at RIC

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The Youth Restoration Project (YRP) has organized the third annual Restorative Justice Practices Symposium on May 18 at Rhode Island College.

The symposium focuses on safety in schools and communities. This year’s theme is “imagine what safety feels like.” The symposium will explore what makes people feel safe, and how can people each contribute to communities that are safe.

“Real community safety lies with how we treat each other,” said Central Falls Superintendent of Schools Victor Capellan, who will host the event. “Not just when things go wrong, but always, in the little interactions in everyday life. In fact, making relationships and knowing the community is where we need to spend far more attention.”

This year, the symposium will have two national speakers to enrich the understanding of restorative justice practices (RJP) when applied to all settings, including conflict-ridden neighborhoods in Baltimore and a juvenile detention facility.

Lauren Abramson, a psychologist and one of the guest speakers, began building what is now Restorative Response Baltimore 20 years ago. It specializes in community conferencing, a restorative protocol for gathering all affected parties to address an incident or problem. A 2013 PBS documentary, Fixing Juvy Justice, featured Abramson, who brought the traditional tribal methods of the Maori tribe in New Zealand to resolving conflict and the harm from crime in her hometown of Baltimore.

“Restorative practices are the biological imperative of our time,” Abramson said. “We are fundamentally and biologically emotional beings, yet we have leeched emotions out of our professional worlds, including classroom, to our peril.” Lauren will discuss “the biology of emotion, our brains, and how restorative practices need to be used to reconnect us with healthy bodies, positive relationships, conflict transformation and engaged learning.”

Carolyn Boyes-Watson, a sociologist, directs the Suffolk University Restorative Justice Center, which, among other initiatives, brought restorative practices to a Connecticut juvenile detention facility. While research is ongoing, staff and resident injury has dropped significantly, as has staff absenteeism.

The Symposium participants will also “circle up,” the signature technique of restoration where each voice is heard. Questions will address community safety and what might be done interpersonally and as groups to help kids both be safe, but also feel safe.

In addition, diverse speakers will share how they applied restorative practices.

Since 2009, the YRP has developed and delivered RJP training, conflict conferencing and consulting services to organizations and schools wanting to develop a more restorative culture. YRP partners with families, schools and universities, family-service agencies, child protective services and the juvenile justice system, with the goal of building a robust social infrastructure that strengthens and supports the young people of Rhode Island. In 2014 YRP and its partners, including Central Falls Schools, were awarded a National Institute of Justice grant to do Restorative Justice conferencing in several RI secondary schools.

The event is on May 18 at the Rhode Island College Student Union Ballroom from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. You can register at yrpofri.org/2018-symposium-registration.

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