The Byrnes Innovation in Crime Reduction Grant

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    Since 2005, the Restorative Justice Project Maine has provided an alternative to the criminal legal system by helping people repair harm in a community-based setting. But we’ve always known that restorative justice is about so much more than responding after harm has happened. It’s about building relationships, creating caring communities, and making everyone safer by investing in preventative strategies like education and mental health.

    We were thrilled when, in 2019, the U.S. Department of Justice awarded RJP Maine a competitive grant as part of its “Innovations in Community-based Crime Reduction Program” to create community justice hubs in the midcoast Maine counties. And in the four years since, we’ve thrown ourselves into grassroots community engagement, with Margaret Micolichek at the helm. Community residents, educators, social service providers, law enforcement officers and others have generously given countless hours of their time and expertise, implementing restorative practices “upstream” to prevent crime and make our communities safer and more welcoming.

    Hundreds of community members have participated in our listening circles about safety, belonging and conflict. Dozens have joined our county-based steering teams to develop and implement preventative strategies. And our midcoast sheriffs, district attorney, police chiefs, victim witness advocates, probation officers and community members have come together every quarter as an advisory team to participate in a dialogue about restorative justice and make commitments to implementing restorative practices within their own realms.

    Four years later, our grant funding is sadly coming to a close. And while we are disappointed that RJP Maine cannot continue to staff the community justice hubs, we are proud of the ways in which the work is now taking root in other community organizations, led by dedicated residents, and will continue to bear fruit. 

    Early on in this project, our advisory team identified reducing crimes related to substance use disorder as a major priority for midcoast communities. To that end, the Waldo County Steering Team identified three strategies to focus on, and as the work transitions outside the purview of RJP, the steering team is divided into three volunteer-based working groups to implement these strategies. One group will support Volunteers of America in opening a recovery center, another will work with the Belfast Police Department to create an ACEs (adverse childhood experiences) response team, modeled off of a New Hampshire Program, and the third plans to partner with the Treatment and Recovery Court to offer restorative processes to those charged with OUIs.

    “It feels like the Steering Committee had been working on a big picture idea. Now that we’re transitioning to specific working groups, our goals feel much more tangible. Knowing that we’re working toward supporting the launch of a Recovery Center in our community is incredibly energizing,” said Kate Nolting, Waldo Steering Team member and Clinical Supervisor for OPTIONS & Mobile Crisis with Sweetser.

    In Lincoln County, our community engagement strategy paid off in stronger relationships with our local schools and school resource officers, which we now anticipate will lead to more case referrals. The steering team focused its attention on finding ways to provide youth with more access to activities as a way to prevent substance abuse. As part of this transition, steering team members have been invited to join a coalition convened by Healthy Lincoln County, an important participant in the community justice hub from the start, that is focused on preventing youth substance abuse and engaging kids and teens in positive, preventative activities.

    In Knox County, steering team members gravitated toward finding ways to provide at-risk youth with mentorship and peer support, and they sought to provide a forum for youth to speak for themselves and share their own needs. In partnership with the Landing Place, a drop-in center for teens in Rockland that is part of the Knox County Homeless Coalition, the steering team hosted a listening circle for at-risk teen boys in May; the boys shared their experiences and the adults listened. 

    Since then, the listening circles have taken on a life of their own, and the Landing Place has independently hosted listening circles for girls and for the moms and grandmothers of at-risk youth. Attendees have also included participants in the newly formed Midcoast Community Collaborative, which is bringing together educators, healthcare providers, social service providers and others in Lincoln and Knox counties to work on improving outcomes for youth, with a special focus on the Waldoboro-to-Rockland corridor. The Knox steering team’s work is integrating seamlessly into the work of other community partners, and the steering team members are committed to continuing restorative work in their own fields, which include the community arts, recovery court, and homelessness prevention.

    RJP Maine is committed to supporting the ongoing work that comes out of the community justice hubs project in alignment with our current program offerings. We will be providing restorative justice training to people working on the projects initiated by the steering teams, and we will invite law enforcement officials, attorneys and others in the Maine legal system to continue to participate in dialogues about restorative justice. As knowledge of restorative justice deepens and spreads, we see the benefits of restorative practices that are based in community relationships.

    Work will continue unfunded through May 2024. A Data Walk is planned for Sagadahoc County on November 2nd and the Advisory Partners, made up of all four sheriffs, the district attorney, and community members will continue to meet quarterly to discuss ways we can collectively work to decrease crime in our area while increasing safety and well-being for all.