On November 30, 2009 a young man, Maurice Clemmons, was shot to death after he shot 4 cops in a coffee shop near Seattle, Washington. Of course it made headlines, (CNN) evoked controversy, and brought out the best and worst of many people with opinions and questions. The main question that seemed to be asked over and over in media and in personal circles was, “Why was he out on the street?” This man started a crime spree at age 16, went through a punitive justice system as a young man and was also an alcoholic. You can find that information in his records. (Arkansas Post Prison Transfer Board Work Sheet). My question is what would this picture look like if he were exposed to transformative models of restorative justice and treatment when he was 16 while in jail? Are you assuming right now he was in a juvenile justice system?
Here are some of his words (found online) in the ‘Brief In Support of Executive Clemency Application’ (Office of Governor Mike Huckabee) he filled out at age 27 after eleven years in prison. He indicated in the summery that after a move from Seattle to a crime infested neighborhood in Arkansas---
- I had no friends and I had no social skills.
- I wanted to be part of the group.
- I had peer pressure, fell in with the wrong crowd and went on a crime spree that lasted for 7 months that got me to jail.
- I am ashamed. There is absolutely no excuse whatsoever for my crimes. I was raised Christian.
- I seek mercy via executive clemency.
Where were the stopgaps when this kid was 16 years old? What happened before he got involved in crime? Where were his parents? How did his teachers, his community, his church, the social system, miss the indicators of pending trouble? These are typical questions that get asked that indicate a community is in trouble and losing its children.
According to the report he was put in prison with adults. Was there no juvenile justice program? Probation checked a box indicating he stay abstinent from alcohol. Did he get any chance at treatment in prison? He was ADD/HD and struggled in the educational system. Was there no help for that in the educational system? The answer to all of this is ‘no’. This kid fell through many uninvestigated means to his present action, murder of 4 cops, which impacted a whole community in Washington, and for that matter, in the country. In 2001 he was back in prison, in 2004 was paroled, in 2004 he assaulted a police officer and raped a child and he was bailed out. In 2009 he committed murder and was shot to death on the run. Tragic for all involved!
How much time has to go by before something is done to intervene in cases like this? While I get that not every criminal can be restored or rehabilitated at a later age, what about the at-risk youth in our society at ages 10, 11, 12 or younger? What about the root causes, like poverty, ignorance, and racism impacting children at-risk in the first place? Where are the gatekeepers? We are the gatekeepers of our children and we had better find better ways of gatekeeping. We are losing our children! According to the National Center for Juvenile Justice and other national sources, statistics show (2006-07) approximately 93,000 at-risk youth were in some type of secure facility (66%). The vast majority of juvenile offenders are non-violent 86% male, 60% youth of color, 88% fifteen years or older, and 62% had at least one prior offence. They stated that 66% of boys and 74% of girls in the juvenile justice system meet the criteria for at least one mental disorder. Lack of appropriate referrals for treatment, disability to navigate social settings ranked highest for the reason they were in justice. Peer pressure is addressed, and 70% of youth involved in juvenile justice have learning disabilities and more than half in detention have not completed the 8th grade.
When these kids are released back out into the community they mostly go back to the same environment they came from which are referred to as 'typical barriers' (to success). We who work with this population know these stats are much higher than what was reported in 2006 therefore my previous statement in previous articles of a 75% recidivism (at least) is very real. (mediate.com)
According to Earthtimes.org (Dec. 4th 2009) a report came out depicting the ongoing trend to jailing youth in adult jails. The Jailing Juveniles: The Dangers of Incarcerating Youth in Adult Jails in America finds that on an average day 7,500 youth are in adult jails. According to a report released by the Campaign for Youth Justice these numbers are probably “several times higher.” A federal law to keep youth out of adult prison has been on the books for over three decades. Come on society we can do better than this!
Restorative Justice unit budgets have been cut, rehabilitation has been reduced, education is in trouble, poverty and homelessness grinds on, addiction and gangs are raging on our streets. Do we dare believe, we as a nation, have the right to ignore and misunderstand this mess? We need restorative justice models that are designed to transform lives now more than ever before. While there are good efforts to that end and we are making some progress, it is not fast enough. We are losing our children to, as Dr. M. Rosenberg states, “tragic expression of unmet needs.”
I am in a unique position as an addiction counselor and a mediator to be able to pull the two disciplines together to make a difference for at-risk youth. I did a two year research at a restorative justice RAD unit (Residential Alcohol/Addiction) in Portland, Oregon with addicted, gang member boys, ages 13 to 17. I also worked with homeless street kids. The results of the study can be found at (negotiatingshadows.com).
Today restorative justice units like the 15 bed RAD facility are facing cuts rather than expansion. We cannot cut a justice process that promises a more holistic solution to conflict, especially for deeply conflicted people. According to Baltimore Maryland’s flagship secure treatment center, like RAD, relapse and recidivism rates are ‘alarming’. (baltimoresun.com) According to my knowledge we can’t afford to give them a year of treatment, most kids are out within 3 to 6 months. What I don’t have are the monetary means to do more to help the process of getting more RJ units implemented into the justice system, or even teaching in one, due to budget cuts. Grants have dried up as well.
My second book, ‘Needs’ focused on how I taught drama arts as a tool for restorative justice using transformative models of mediation/negotiation. The contents tell the story of how the RAD boys (also street youth) responded to creative expression education and what they wrote about themselves through poetry, script writing, short stories and how I was impacted by their struggles. (Aardvark Global Publishing) The book can be ordered at Aardvark or negotiatingshadows.com (ISBN 978-1-4276-4477-0)
There is so much work to do to implement systems that work toward eliminating factors that feed the loss of people, especially youth. In my first book , Negotiating Dramatic Events: Conflict Resolution for Addicted At-Risk Youths in Juvenile Justice, I charted conflicted systems like economic, political, religious, justice, health, educational, etc. that impact youth within communities and showed the results when left in conflict. (Portland State University)
For instance when the economy is based on the current self-centered, defensive, greedy banking system it feeds poverty at the bottom line level and impacts communities with unmet needs that lead to child abuse, violence, lack of education, oppression, poverty, racism, substance abuse and the like. We had better get that systems are tied in together and need drastically changed. We can bail out banks and auto industries and can’t afford to help our children? Really?
We must find and act on deepening new values that lead to restoration and transformation of unworkable systems in deep conflict. We must become the age of transition. We will get there with continuing united effort toward change. Mediators are on the cutting edge toward educating the public to the value of conflict transformation and the power of restorative justice, but we are challenged to step up the pace. We can help build a society that places these values before the ones in place now. We don’t have to lose any more children. Let’s do it!