The Midtown Community Restorative Justice Council in south Minneapolis offers non-violent offenders an opportunity to restore their reputation within the community and to repay the community for the troubles they caused. The council was founded in January 1998 by the Powderhorn Park Neighborhood Association, and aims to rehabilitate offenders and help them become an active member in the community.
“It allows the offender to see the community, meet the people and pay them back in some respect,” said volunteer and computer networker Phillip Miller.
The council consists of a diverse group of volunteers, including Miller, sound engineer Dan Reddan, and an administrator at a Catholic Church, Peter Eichten. About every three months, the council forms two panels of three members each to facilitate a meeting with an offender.
To take part in the counseling, an offender must be approved by the parole officer and the judge, said program coordinator Cyndi Rose Butler. Criteria include the type of crime committed and whether they can see a positive impact in placing the first-time offender in the program. Offenders admitted to the program have committed misdemeanors or minor felonies, such as vandalism, prostitution, disorderly conduct, theft and fifth degree assault, theft, possession or sale of narcotics and burglary.
Miller explained that the offender must take responsibility for their actions at the very first meeting. “You can send them to as many rehab programs as you want, but it will be useless unless they want to change,” Miller said.
Then the panel discusses a contract, which is an agreement between the offender and the panel listing activities to finish within the community. If the tasks are completed, the offense will be taken off their record. All participants pay an initial fee of $150 for the program. Individual contracts vary. A contract might include community service and getting a letter of support from a friend or relative and watching an educational video.
“It is a program to help offenders, not to shame them,” Eichten said.
The second meeting is a follow-up to monitor progress on the contract, and the offender may be discharged if he or she has completed the contract. If not, a third meeting is held. Miller said that if they don’t fulfill the contract, they are sent back to the judicial system and the courts decide their fate.
“The offenders are generally cooperative,” said Miller. “They want to get past this.”
Historically, the success rate is high, according to Butler. She said that clients go through the program and it changes their lives. Some former offenders go to training programs to become a part of the council.
“The offenders volunteer more because they meet great people, and [this] connects them to the community,” Miller said. The volunteering continues, and rehabilitation is completed.