Restorative Justice reaches 10-year mark

by Andy Steinke

Two months ago public relations sophomore Laura Schelke attended a meeting to make amends for a crime she committed against her community.

Earlier in the semester, Schelke had been drinking and was ticketed when police surprised members at the house she was at. Along with her ticket, she received a pamphlet for Restorative Justice Community Action.

Schelke finished her agreement with the 10-year-old organization Saturday morning. As an alternative to paying for the ticket, she agreed to talk to other offenders like herself.


Cases addressed by RJCA in 2007 near campus:
155 in Marcy-Holmes
71 in Southeast Como
80 in University of Minnesota
5 in Prospect Park

1,906 hours of community service
160 apologies
$1,481 donated
40 other donations
43 hours of personal development

Source: Restorative Justice Community Action

Overall, the organization helped 435 people find alternatives to paying misdemeanor tickets last year, and 1,939 since 1997.

In the past three years, 1,067 people living near the University have taken advantage of the program, which recently celebrated its 10th anniversary at its annual dinner.

As part of her agreement, Schelke decided to attend several Restorative Justice Community Action conferences as a representative of the neighborhood and talk about being a responsible and respectable community member.

University police have been working with the non-profit group since October 2004, when the organization expanded to include the neighborhoods surrounding campus.

Now, when police hand out tickets for misdemeanor offenses, they also hand out pamphlets from the organization.

Restorative Justice Community Action Board Chairwoman Cynthia Prosek said the program has grown considerably since the addition of southeast Minneapolis neighborhoods around the University.

University students are by far the largest chunk of participants in the program, she said.

In 2007, there were 1,488 alcohol-related and other misdemeanor violations in Marcy-Holmes, Southeast Como, Prospect Park and the University neighborhoods.

Stevie Larson, who is the organization’s community coordinator for those neighborhoods, said 293 of those violators enrolled in the program and 311 people attended conferences in 2007.

Those who want to participate in the program have three days after receiving a misdemeanor ticket to call Restorative Justice Community Action and enroll in the program.

Once enrolled, participants attend a three hour meeting led by facilitators to talk about their violations with members from their community.

They then decide how their crime against the community can be repaid and an agreement is reached by both parties.

Schelke chose to spend eight hours of community service at Miniapple Montessori, a school in Marcy-Holmes, and talk with others at future conferences.

Other types of agreements included written apologies to neighbors in the area near their offenses and donations to various community centers.

“I was underage and I was a minor, so I felt I was responsible and this was a great way to make amends,” Schelke said.

The experience was definitely worthwhile, both from a community member’s perspective and from the perspective of a student who went through the program, she said.

According to surveys that Restorative Justice Community Action hands out after meetings, 96 percent of participants agree that the experience is satisfying.