“We can’t hurt people into healthy behavior,” says Trinice Holden, the impassioned Executive Director of the Youth Restoration Project (YRP). Trinice is referring to the ways that punitive institutions in Rhode Island and the greater US seek to discipline and keep order. As early as the 1970s, research shows that the criminal justice system is all but rehabilitative; it rarely gets to the root of the larger issue, only determining who is “innocent” and who is “guilty”, and oftentimes reinforces – even perpetuates – the same criminal or undesired behavior. YRP recognizes this and believes in the effectiveness of restorative justice: A person-to-person rehabilitative model that can help change the way we think about resolving conflict of all kinds.
What is restorative justice? Historically, the practice derives from a Native American tradition that is community-focused. When one individual hurts another, it affects the surrounding collective, not just the parties involved. According to the YRP, restorative practices seek to get to the root of the conflict by understanding the motivations of the offender and for that offender to understand the hurt they’ve caused others. This, Trinice says, leads to productive healing on both sides and integrates both parties back into the community.
YRP works mostly with schools and organizations (both non- and for-profit) to implement conflict resolution training. The group steps in to improve workplace culture or train faculty and school staff on how to deescalate heated interactions. Trinice relays that most common challenges in schools are fights and social media bullying, and the students involved do not realize the complete effect they have on their classmates.
Recalling a school altercation, Trinice says, “The fight made the [other] students worried and anxious. They weren’t sure if the participants were safe or if the fighting would spread. While talking about the incident in the meeting the student realized that he hadn’t even thought about the other classmates as affected parties and was far more remorseful for what he had done.”
However, YRP does not want to stop at schools and companies: They’ve begun to scratch the surface of local government and the administration is currently speaking with government members that are interested in restorative practices.
YRP is not the only organization that is implementing restorative practices into their work. A fact, Trinice says, that is very exciting. “It’s not just us. There are so many grassroots organizations in Rhode Island that are working within different parts, different fills, whether it’s within policies or procedures, or housing advocacy, or making sure that people who have been incarcerated are at the table when it comes to having those conversations.”
To volunteer for the Youth Restoration Project, email Trinice Holden at Trinice@YRPOfRI.org.