The Restorative Justice Model
by Karen Nance
Many minority communities of color not only lack a nuclear family structure, they also lack a blended family structure. Often maternal and paternal family figures have children with parties outside their households creating complex combinations of half-siblings, step-siblings and non- biological parental figures in households. Most of these fractionated households are riddled with animosity toward ex-partners which inevitably impacts the children who oftentimes have little or no contact with the non-custodial parent because either there is no court order for visitation in place or if there is, the order is not adhered to by the custodial parent.
Tensions are exacerbated when local child support agencies sue non-custodial parents establish parentage and to collect monthly child support. The child support agency is either responding to a request from a custodial parent to obtain a monthly child support order from the non-custodial parent or is mandated to recoup county assistance received by custodial parents.
Children are being emotionally and sometimes physically tugged between custodial and non- custodial households. The children are not the only victims. The harm is visited on the custodial, non-custodial parents as well as other members of each household and extended family members such as grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends.
In order to “heal” these family units, it is necessary to look beyond the Restorative Justice model in which the “wrongdoer” is easy to identify. The four key values of Encounter, Amends, Reintegration and Inclusion need to be stretched into a new model of “Transformative Justice.”
Since parties have moved onto new relationships, it is impractical to “restore” these family units. Instead, assembling a “tool kit” of Restorative Justice Programs such as mediation; family group conferencing and group decision making; circles and transformative dialogue will assist these families in raising children who are confident, productive and self-sustaining members of society.
For example, Restorative Justice Practitioners need to educate themselves on the “negative effects of imprisonment on later employment, earnings, and family relationships...The negative effects of incarceration on fathers’ financial support are due not only to the low earnings of formerly incarcerated men but also to their increased likelihood to live apart from their children” (source).
“African Americans constitute nearly 1 million of the 2.3 million persons incarcerated and are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites.
One in three African American men will experience prison; white men’s risk is just 6 percent.
Hispanic men are almost three times as likely to be imprisoned as non-Hispanic white men. The poor are also disproportionately represented behind bars...
The wives, girlfriends and children of African American men who go to jail or prison suffer collateral damage. Studies show that the children of inmates do less well in school and exhibit behavioral problems. In addition, women partnered with inmates suffer from
depression and economic hardship.” (source)
Transformative Justice has been applied in the Child Support setting with success..
Local Child Support agencies are uniquely positioned to implement Transformative Justice in communities of color because they have access to the custodial and non-custodial parent.