The program deals with 10- to 17-year-olds who either live in or have offended in Seward and Greater Longfellow. Police recommend them to the program for offenses such as theft, shoplifting, trespassing, graffiti or 5th degree assault. A restorative conference is then held in which the offender meets with his/her parents, the victim and their supporters, two trained volunteer facilitators from the neighborhood and a county volunteer to identify the ways the offense caused harm and to draw up a contract outlining a plan for repairing the harm. A youth who absolutely feels he/she is not in the wrong may choose to go through the court to prove his/her innocence.
Program Manager Michele Braley says the restorative conferences foster relationship building. Parents of victims and offenders often realize how easily they could have been in each other’s shoes. “When you put a face on people who’ve hurt you, it changes things,” she said. At the end of one conference, the dad of the victim wanted to be reassured the offender wouldn’t have a court record.
Braley says there is widespread support for the program throughout the community. It just makes sense to people, she said.
The program’s yearly budget is $40,000. Funding comes from many sources, such as the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office, the City Attorney’s Office, individual donors, foundations, Thrivent Financial and small nonprofits. Until July 1, 2009, one-fourth of its funding came from the State. Since that was cut, many groups have stepped in to raise money. For example, Faith Mennonite Church, in February, hosted the Seward Concert Band in a benefit concert that raised $2,800.