A new pilot program to help at-risk youth stay out of trouble is coming to Nashville. The initiative, named Restorative Justice, is the first of its kind in Tennessee.
Over 12,000 crimes were committed by youth under the age of 18 in Middle Tennessee last year. And, half of them happened in Davidson County, according to state data.
But, Nashville’s new restorative justice program could prevent these youth from committing a crime again, says Judge Sheila Calloway. The goal is to have juvenile offenders make amends with their victims and the community.
“What this program does, it is the first in Tennessee and it is an actual diversion from the criminal justice system,” says Calloway.
The city does have other programs that use restorative justice practices. For instance, there is a Restorative Justice and the Arts program, which is a partnership among Metro Arts, the Juvenile Justice Center (JJC) and the Oasis Center. It introduced at-risk youth to arts experiences in a way that provides opportunities for mentorship.
But, this program differs, because it offers an alternative to an offender going through the court system. Rather, it has individuals work with a community-based organization, the Raphah Institute, to actually confront the victim and make amends.
The victim can decide whether they want the offender go back into the system, or whether they are satisfied with the justice they have received, explains District Attorney Glenn Funk.
“We are committed to not only making sure victims are completely supported, but allowing them the opportunity to say, this is not what I want. I’d rather have them go through the justice system,” said Funk. “If it’s something the victim supports, we’re going to give this a try.”
He says the pilot will begin with a limited number of cases. But, state leaders could expand the program if it works.
“We’re also going to carefully track the statistics. If we see a recidivism rate drop to 12%, I think everybody would embrace that,” he said. “If we can do that over the next couple of years, then we can expand this.”
The CEO of the Raphah Institute, Travis Claybrooks, estimates the program would cost about 5 thousand dollars per case. But, he says, it would save taxpayers over the long run.
“The numbers are estimated about 10 times that cost to run a young person through the traditional criminal legal system. Forty to sixty thousand dollars,” said Claybrooks.