Disruption Index: Restorative Justice

One of 77 people, places and ideas changing cities in 2012.

Credit: Danni Sinisi

Over the next two weeks, Next City will unroll short profiles of 77 people, places and ideas that have changed cities this year. Together, they make up our 2012 Disruption Index. Forefront subscribers can download the Index in full as a PDF, complete with beautiful designs and graphics by Danni Sinisi. Readers who make a $75 donation to Next City will have a full-color printed copy of the Index mailed to them.

More young people were killed in Chicago in 2012 than in any other American city. But while this homicide rate is exceptional, the concentration of violence is not. As is standard in most cities, the majority of murders happened in a minority of neighborhoods. The consequences are equally catastrophic for the communities torn apart by violence as they are for the city as a whole. In 2011 alone, Chicago spent upwards of $27 million to detain youth from areas of the city with a collective population of about 2,400, according to the Cook County Juvenile Justice Task Force. The spending is expected to be even greater in 2012. When you look at the total cost associated with the detention process and borne by cities, the numbers get even larger. It’s that grim reality that has inspired a rethinking of the criminal justice system, one that seeks to disrupt urban America’s tragically normalized population flow from school to jails — and all too often, to coffins.

Restorative justice is a community-based alternative to a traditional system of punishment that puts young offenders in detention centers or jails. By asking stakeholders involved in the crime to find a resolution, rather than relying on the criminal justice system to lay down a punishment, practitioners break established cycles of incarceration, retribution and recidivism. This works in surprisingly sensible ways. Under the restorative justice model, a thief who stole a television, for instance, would be compelled to bring it back. Or a vandal who broke a store window would pay the owner for the damage.

Leading this change are organizations like Chicago’s Community Justice for Youth Institute, which focuses on building the community capacity to address and resolve youth crime in the city and its schools. By shifting responsibility back to the community members involved, restorative justice seems much more likely to actually change patterns of crime and with that, transform the entire city.

Nate Berg is a writer and journalist covering cities, architecture and urban planning. Nate’s work has been published in a wide variety of publications, including the New York Times, NPR, Wired, Metropolis, Fast Company, Dwell, Architect, the Christian Science Monitor, LA Weekly and many others. He is a former staff writer at The Atlantic Cities and was previously an assistant editor at Planetizen.

Tags: chicagopolicecrime2012 disruption index

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