Community & Restorative Justice Can Transform Outcomes

The Maysville Commission on Human Rights welcomed Diana Queen, president of the Kentucky Center for Community and Restorative Justice, at their July meeting. Queen facilitated an in depth conversation with commission and community members about the functions and benefits of Community and Restorative Justice.

Queen has a background as a Kentucky state trooper and detective, city council member, and volunteer with youth and the Kentucky Innocence Project. Her years of experience with victims of crime and offenders inspired her to found the Kentucky Center for Community and Restorative Justice in order to instill more fairness, legitimacy, and community involvement into the justice system.

According to Queen, Community and Restorative Justice doesn’t just address the offender and how they should be punished. More people are affected besides the victim. The offense may impact the victim’s family, the offender’s family, and other members of the community. Restorative justice brings all those people together in order to have meaningful conversations that may lead to reconciliation, less recidivism, and better community outcomes.

Pastor Jim Dougans, from First Presbyterian Church, commented that Community and Restorative Justice may be the next step in the evolution of the justice system. Queen agreed and acknowledged how burdened the current criminal justice system is. There are 21,000 incarcerated in Kentucky alone and 2.2 million nationwide.

Millicent Harding-Thomas, cultural diversity director at MCTC, asked if the success of restorative justice practices is being tracked. Queen said that tracking is vitally important, but Community and Restorative Justice is relatively new in Kentucky so the history isn’t there yet. Nationally however, recidivism has dropped about half where such programs are being used. Such programs must have credibility. Public safety must be paramount. The process must be collaborative. Citizens must be part of the decision making. The ultimate goal is to improve legitimacy, fairness, and outcomes.

Queen said this process is a great partner to the police, to the courts, to city housing, to a human rights commission, codes enforcement, and to the schools. Rather than children getting booted out of school, the Community and Restorative Justice process can help identify the causes of conflict and resolve children’s behavioral issues, which can prevent them from getting caught in the school to prison pipeline. Schools are an important part of the process, and restorative justice is viewed as an important tool by teachers, administrators, and police, she said.

Queen said that Community and Restorative Justice process can be a good addition to parole and probation, which are rarely successful because those on parole or probation often don’t have the kind of support and resources they need to succeed. Community and Restorative Justice can offer re-entry circles within the community that give the individual the support and resources needed to successfully rejoin the community.

Chairman Hussey asked if business and industry a part of the process of getting employment for former felons? Ms. Queen said that business and industry partners are necessary for the success of a re-entry program. Entrepreneurial programs can also be a great partner.

Harding-Thomas said that in her experience, many people have good intentions of becoming productive citizens when released from prison, but they find that they cannot get employment and feel unwanted within the community. “I just feel that this Community and Restorative Justice would be a blessing in this area,” she said.

Community and Restorative Justice is not implemented the same way in every community, Queen said. Louisville, for example, focuses on youth issues. Judges, schools, and others are all committed to that. She recently completed the two-year process of helping Covington form a Community Restorative Justice program.

“We don’t have any kind of set model that we just stick in there and do,” Queen said. “It would be about Maysville and the people of Maysville and how they would want to do something like this. It’s about you crafting it. I can help you steward some processes, but ultimately it’s about you.”

The Maysville Commission for Human Rights will further discuss Community and Restorative Justice at a special meeting at 4:30 p.m., Thursday, August 24 at Maysville Municipal Building.