I have been involved in the Maine Youth Court since my freshman year of high school. The Maine Youth Court provides a platform for high school students from all over Maine to participate in practicing Restorative Justice in their own communities. When young people are sent to Youth Court for violating the law, a tribunal of high school students represents each party involved in the case. The first is the respondent, the second is the victim, and the third is the community. Each party presents the case for what the respondent did, how the respondent’s actions impacted each party, and what needs to be done in order to resolve the issue. Once the tribunal has heard the case from all parties, they come to a unanimous decision on the outcome for the respondent. This decision incorporates all the suggestions from the respondent themselves, the victim, and the community. The resolution aims to cover four main objectives: repairing the harm, building up on the respondent’s interests and talents, creating connections, and increasing knowledge, skills and resources.
I became involved with Youth Court because I believe that we exist in the most punitive nation in the world; the way America treats its citizens who have violated the law is fueled by the idea of vengeance rather than beneficial restoration. When people commit crimes, the feeling of pain and fear as a result of that crime is what drives the demand for greater punishment of offenders, as a way to “bring relief.” As a nation, we turn to harsher punishments as if there is no other way to stop the occurrence of crimes. The lack of understanding of other viable methods of punishment coupled with the “get-tough” rhetoric that is perpetuated throughout the country generates an even greater demand for discipline.
However, this problem has a pool of possible solutions, and I believe that Restorative Justice is the best approach to fix the problem. The essence of this practice gives young people who have made a mistake a second chance. Ultimately, Restorative Justice cultivates a progressive society where young people are held accountable for their actions by their community in a victim-offender-community relationship. Restorative Justice also saves young people from being swallowed by the monster of the School-to-Prison Pipeline. A restorative disciplinary process in schools where the students are met with reconciliation and/or counseling service, rather than being isolated, punished, and pushed out of school and into the juvenile and criminal justice system, will save them from plunging into a vicious cycle of falling behind in their education and ultimately elevating the risk of a life of crime and incarceration.
As I finish the first semester of my junior year, I am reminded of the unique qualities Youth Court has instilled in me. Not only has its restorative practices fueled my passion for the reformation of the Justice System, but also it has increased my knowledge on the operation of structures that were once unknown to me. Youth Court has taught me to use my position as a young person in society to contribute to a greater cause. It has created an abundance of opportunities and resources for me to succeed in everything I put my mind to.
Malcolm X once said “The future belongs to those who prepare for it today,” and I believe this to be entirely true. Every day I wake up I live with a purpose. Through the application of principles that dismantle toxic systems, such as America’s Criminal Justice System, we can and will make a difference. I believe that when you are presented with a piece of information, it then becomes partly your responsibility to do something about it.
My purpose of writing this article is to share my experience in Youth Court and the importance of Restorative Justice, as well as trying to get my message out there in order to inspire others to reach out into their communities and create change. It’s time to act on what you know. The only thing necessary for the perpetuation of evil is for people to do nothing. I want people who are exposed to me to be determined to do something. With the willingness of our community, we can positively impact the lives of everyone.
It starts with you.