U-area groups apply for restorative justice

Bridget Haeg

The Marcy-Holmes and Southeast Como neighborhood associations will submit applications today to become part of an alternative justice program to combat petty crimes.

The Central City Neighborhoods Partnership Restorative Justice Program offers alternative punishments for crimes such as public drunkenness, public urination and vandalism.

The program’s board of directors will notify the neighborhoods if they are accepted in February. The restorative justice program accepts neighborhoods based on crime statistics, the commitment of the community, the compatibility of the program and the community, and other qualifications.

Gena Gerard, program manager, said restorative justice promotes face-to-face interaction between offenders and neighborhood residents to “enhance the accountability for people who commit street crimes.”

The Hennepin County court refers offenders to participate in the program. Offenders meet with residents or business leaders affected by the crime to create and maintain ground rules for a discussion, Gerard said.

Two facilitators, trained by the program, lead these discussions focusing on the impact of the crime and “how (the offenders) can make amends to the community,” Gerard said.

Elissa Cortell, coordinator of the neighborhood revitalization program for the Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association, said the neighborhood was looking for alternatives to address petty crimes when the possibility of participation in the restorative justice program appeared.

Cortell said she hopes the program will help offenders understand their behavior’s impact and to learn appreciation from the neighborhood’s residents.

Many program funding possibilities exist, said Bob Miller, the neighborhood revitalization program director. Since the city of Minneapolis, the Minneapolis Police Department and Hennepin County would benefit from the program, Miller said, neighborhoods might look to them for funding.

Also, the program’s focus on community involvement should deter crime and save the city money that could go back into the program, Miller said.

Since its first case in September 1997, the restorative justice program has handled 486 cases. Each year, offenders complete about 1,000 hours of community service, Gerard said.

Currently, the University is discussing how to make the program work for the campus, said Jan Morlock, community relations director for University Relations.

Meredith McGrath, associate director for Student Judicial Affairs, said the program would work well with the University because of their similar missions.

Though University students inhabit the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood, Cortell said the program will not target students because the neighborhoods are more concerned with stopping disturbing behavior.

However, the high student population in the neighborhoods means the program could affect students. Joe Blankholm, Marcy-Holmes neighborhood revitalization program committee member and University student, believes the communities can reap positive outcomes from the program.

“(It is a) good-for-everyone process,” Blankholm said. “Kids are kids Ö it doesn’t mean they are criminals, it just means they are in college.”