YouthZone column: We must support restorative practices | PostIndependent.com

YouthZone column: We must support restorative practices

Alexander Williard
YouthZone
Alexander Williard

In 2016 alone the “Land of The Free,” a nation that represents only 4.4 percent of the world’s population, housed nearly 2.3 million of its citizens in federal, state and private-run detention centers. Out of 323.1 million total Americans, this may seem like a small number, but this statistic lacks proper context. To illustrate what 2.3 million really looks like, imagine if 1 out of every 2 Coloradans were locked away, and we arrive at a rough comparison to our nation’s incarceration rate. Of these prisoners, 55 percent of the men and 75 percent of the women are struggling with some form of mental illness, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

You may ask, “What does this mean for the law-abiding citizen?” It means we must, as a community, continue providing support to restorative practices. By acting from a place of compassion, not only do we allow for resolutions to be made, but above all, healing. In other words, taking the proper amount of time to address the underlying causes of crime is just as important as restoring justice. This may seem like a lot to ask from someone directly impacted by crime, but I encourage you to stretch your empathy. Can you imagine what’s possible, as a society, if we continue helping our neighbors through their emotional crises, traumas and addictions? Extending structured forgiveness, rather than immediate punitive action, will set the foundation for stronger preventative services within our legal systems nationally, but it must start at the community level.

After talking with Tina Olson, YouthZone’s clinical supervisor, it was made clear that not all crime has malicious intent. It’s not uncommon, unfortunately, to have a client attend YouthZone’s services for petty theft. In most cases they’re here because of court mandated counseling. It’s only after intake do our case managers discover that the only way for our client to get out of an abusive home situation was arrest. By allowing social biases on crime to cloud our judgments, it’s easy to overlook cases like this. Mind you it’s a hypothetical scenario, but the underlying theme rings true. The root issues for a large majority of our clients’ court appearances, if not all, are their emotional and in some cases physical stressors. Our communities, but most importantly our children, rely on the counseling services currently in place to develop stronger, more self-aware, futures. It’s our mission, at YouthZone, to continue providing this level of consistency, reliability and stability to every youth that walks through our doors.

Alexander Williard is an AmeriCorps volunteer.