Justice program centers on community

The program lets offenders perform community services instead of pay fines.

Greg Corradini

Connie Sullivan said that she woke up while a man was going to the bathroom in her yard last fall.

“Ma’am, I am (peeing) on your shrubs, and I am going to kill ’em,” Sullivan said the man told her.

As a Southeast Como resident for 28 years, Sullivan said, she has watched her quiet neighborhood sometimes become a street swarming with underage drinkers.

“They think they’re down on First Avenue or something,” Sullivan said. “They’re not; it’s a residential neighborhood. That’s a livability issue.”

Now, Marcy-Holmes and Southeast Como neighborhood residents such as Sullivan said they hope livability issues such as underage drinking, loud parties and public urination are being discouraged with a restorative-justice program.

Last July, the University’s Minneapolis campus and the two neighborhoods began participating in the Central City Neighborhoods Partnership Restorative Justice Program.

The program’s manager, Gena Gerard, said restorative justice is a way to address conflict that aims to repair the harm caused during incidents.

It often brings offenders and community members face to face at meetings, called “community conferences,” to discuss the impact of an incident, she said.

Community volunteers and the offenders then decide on the appropriate restitution, which usually involves community service.

In exchange for going through the program, offenders will avoid paying fines and will have the misdemeanor charges dropped from their records.

University police Lt. Troy Buhta said the program is good because in the past, police have cited violators for underage drinking without giving the community a follow-through opportunity.

The program allows the community to actually meet the violators and talk about the impact of offenses, he said.

“When the violators hear this information, their eyes just light up,” Buhta said. “They never really realized how their actions affect the whole community.”

Gerard said that the University and Minneapolis 2nd Precinct police became involved in the program in October.

The police now give offenders a blue slip of paper directly at the point of arrest and citation that informs them about the restorative-justice option, she said.

According to the program’s data, the police have given 160 citations for minor consumption in the Marcy-Holmes and Southeast Como neighborhoods, and on campus from October to February.

Of the 160 citations, 84 offenders decided to participate in the restorative-justice program.

Emily Buehler, the program’s community coordinator, said the majority of those cases are from the University’s Minneapolis campus, where University police often ticket for underage drinking.

At first, police only gave restorative-justice referrals with tickets for minor consumption, she said.

But in February, other alcohol-related offenses, such as consumption of alcohol in public and underage possession of alcohol, among others, were added to the police referral program, she said.

University junior Ian Craig said he was at the last restorative-justice community meeting, which happens once or twice a month.

Craig was there as a community volunteer whose job is to be a spokesman for the community and tell offenders how a crime affects everyone who lives and works in the areas of offense, he said.

At the last conference, there were three University students, who each had been cited for minor consumption, Craig said.

After talking with them, Craig said, he knew the University students understood how their actions affected the immediate community.

Their restitution agreement included a trash-pickup day, he said.

Sullivan, who is also a board member of the Southeast Como Improvement Association, said she has heard neighbors worry about the sincerity of offenders going through the process.

One neighbor told Sullivan certain restitutions, such as donating clothes to charity, aren’t sufficient penalties.

Although Sullivan said the neighbor didn’t fully understand the program, the neighborhood still needs to focus on designing restitution agreements that put offenders in contact with the community and make them realize they are harming neighbors.

Sullivan said the program is too young for there to be talk about success rates, but from what she’s heard, it seems to be working.