As the concept of Restorative Justice continues to gain momentum throughout the country, the execution and innovation demonstrated by Yellow Medicine County’s Restorative Justice Program is often cited as a poster child for how to do things right.
Just this past year, an entire chapter in a book on Restorative Justice, “Circle in the Square,” was dedicated to showcasing YMC’s efforts and Department of Human Service Commissioner Lucinda Jesson also honored the organization as one of seven picked to receive the 2012 DHS Commiss-ioner’s Circle of Excellence Awards.
During Tuesday’s YMC Board meeting Restorative Justice Coordinator Sharon Hendrichs expressed pride that the county has come to receive such recognition, but also told board members that if the program was going to continue to be a leader in the field it would need additional financial support for two full-time positions rather than the present one-and-a-half.
In attendance to express their support for the request were representatives of YME’s attorney office and both family services and corrections departments.
“We definitely urge the board to approve Sharon’s request. The need has definitely gone up and I don’t see it coming down,” said Assistant County Attorney Amanda Sieling. “We do want to continue to be considered a leader in Restorative Justice and it seems the extention is the logical next step.”
“From a corrections standpoint, it’s been priceless,” added corrections officer Dawn Odegard. “We are seeing more successes [in terms of rehabilitation] than we could have ever seen otherwise.
Hendrichs made her case with the aid of a comprehensive PowerPoint presentation that detailed the evolution of the county’s Restorative Justice Program from 2002, when less than five clients were served, to 2012, which saw over thirty county clients receive aid.
Hendrichs also showed that the sheer volume of circles in operation in the county were generally significantly more than comparable communities with larger program staffs.
Originally, Circle Sentencing was the only offering when the program was implemented through the PACT for Families Collaborative. In 2006 the county formed its own Restorative Justice Department. Then in 2009 and 2010 the Family and Community Circle and the Circle of Hope programs were established, respectively.
The Circle process is the common theme throughout the different offerings, and involves a process wherein volunteers of a given community offer their time as a support network, aiding individuals as they work to locate and address the root of a problem to the benefit of the entire community.
•Circle Sentencing - is offered for youth who have run afoul of the law, providing an opportunity for minors to avoid the legal system if they are willing to meet, often very tough, goals established by the circle participants to bring about rehabilitation.
Page 2 of 2 - •Family and Community Circle - is a strength-based process to enhance the ability of families and communities to keep children and families physically and emotionally safe and unified.
•And finally, Circle of Hope - provides a community strength-based process to help persons in recovery (from alcoholism/addiction) make a safe and healthy transition to their community upon completion of treatment.
Beyond the circles’ successful track record of resolving issues at their core, the Restorative Justice program is also recognized for its ability to cut expenses associated with the typical legal process, wherein services like out of home placement, related to child protection services, can come with huge costs.
Other monetary benefits are associated with the fact that volunteers comprise the circle. For perspective Hendrichs pointed out that over the past decade, 77 youth have been served by circles in Granite Falls, Clarkfield, Hanley Falls and/or Canby––with a total of 38 successfully completing the program. In terms of circle participants, she said that a total of 973 hours had been contributed by volunteers, which at the federal volunteer rate of approximately $21.62/hour equated to $138,823.83 in donated time. Meanwhile, youth involved in circle have also paid $47,324 in total restitution to the victims of their crimes.
When the request finally came to a vote, county commissioners––who have long expressed their support of the program––said only that they wished the multi-department support expressed for Restorative Justice was more common amongst the county as a whole. Thus, the request to make the part-time Restorative Justice Coordinator position presently held by Jessica Jeppesen was given unanimous approval.
At present, the $26,299 part-time position is funded through an Office of Justice Program Grant. An additional contribution of approximately $25,000 will be required of the county.
In 2012 the entire Restorative Justice Department cost of operations was $113,912.65, of which $72,123.59 was funded through grants and $41,789.06 was the responsibility of the county.
In other news:
•Commissioners approved a $13,000 contribution to Southern Prairie Community Care at the request of Family Service Director Peg Heglund. SPCC is a county based purchasing cooperative that Yellow Medicine County is a member of.
•Commissioners approved a request by YMC Sheriff Bill Flaten to purchase a police car and SUV vehicle at a combined estimated expense of approximately $51,000.