And that’s important considering that youths’ behaviors are more motivated by immediate rewards rather than when the consequences are extended over a long period, according to co-author Blake Bascle, deputy chief for adult and juvenile diversion programs at the Jefferson Parish District Attorney’s Office. Through diversion, youths are reached in a month, whereas through the courts the period can extend up to four months.
“Use of pre-adjudication diversion can reduce the time between arrest and intervention. Diversion services typically begin within one month of the offense. Expedient case processing provides youth with immediate opportunities to achieve program goals rather than relying on significantly delayed court-based responses to change behaviors,” wrote Bascle and Dr. John Ryals Jr., evaluation and treatment supervisor for the Jefferson Parish Department of Juvenile Services.
The authors cover an array of juvenile intervention matters in Jefferson Parish. Notable among them is Restorative Practices, a joint program between the District Attorney’s Office and the Jefferson Parish Public School System. Public schools that have adopted Restorative Practices have seen a 13.7-percent reduction in expulsions while schools that do not use the program saw an 18.5-percent increase in expulsions during the two-year period ending in 2017, according to their paper.
Lauren Trout (center), restorative justice facilitator for the Jefferson Parish District Attorney’s Office and Jefferson Parish Public School System, discusses the program for an audience gathered in New Orleans for “Rethink Discipline.” At the left is Kimbrielle Boult, a student, and at right is Lynette Adams of the Louisiana Supreme Court. (JPDA photo)
During its first year of use in Juvenile Diversion, about 260 people have voluntarily used the restorative justice process as a means of resolving conflicts and undoing the harm the youths’ behavior caused, said Lauren Trout, a restorative practices facilitator working for the District Attorney’s Office and the Jefferson Parish Public School System.
“The outcomes and responses have been largely positive,” Trout told about 50 educators, school administrators, students and representatives of community groups from as far as Jackson, Miss., who are gathering in New Orleans this week for a regional conference called “Rethink Discipline.” Trout was among the speakers on Tuesday (June 7).
The participants convened to discuss and share ideas on finding alternatives to suspending or expelling students who cause disciplinary problems in public schools. Restorative justice, one of this week’s topics, is a method school officials began using nationwide during the past decade, as a means of trying to keep youths in school and out of criminal justice systems.
Trout is helping bring restorative practices to Jefferson Parish’s 81 public schools. Through restorative practices, the youths who cause the problem must confront their behaviors by sitting face-to-face with the people they’ve harmed in what’s called “talking circles.”
And in the schools setting, the often-used means of meting discipline, through expulsions, suspensions and even arrests, doesn’t solve the underlying problems. “We know suspending and expelling young people doesn’t resolve the conflict,” Trout said, as the offending youths eventually return to the classrooms.
The Jefferson Parish DA’s Office and public school system began working together during the 2014-2015 academic year through a cooperative endeavor to bring restorative practices to the schools. Jefferson’s program, along with those in Caddo and Orleans parishes, is funded the program with U.S. Education Department School Climate Transformation Grants.
Jefferson Parish Juvenile Court judges began looking at restorative justice in 2011, through its Families in Need of Services program. Over time, District Attorney Paul D. Connick Jr., authorized his office to implement the program through the Pre-Trial Juvenile Diversion Program, using grant money from the Baptist Community Ministries Foundation.
In Juvenile Diversion, restorative justice is used in cases involving fights, thefts from persons, property destruction, assaults and batteries. Youths involved with narcotics, inter-family incidents and thefts from the large chain stores aren’t allowed access to restorative justice.
Jefferson Parish’s youths were only able to access restorative justice after they entered the juvenile criminal justice system, Trout said. That’s why the program was extended to the public schools through the collaboration with the DA’s office, she said.
She said she’s seen successes and barriers to implementing the program in the public schools in its first year. “Real change, and systemic change in particular, is really slow,” she said of the barriers. “It takes time to work efficiently across so many systems.”
She sees the collaboration between the school system and criminal justice system as a success, and restorative practices is now in the school system’s disciplinary policies handbook.
While concrete data isn’t available, Trout cited as an example of success a public school, which she did not identify, that had a high rate of arrests among its students. The school then included on its staff a part-time restorative practices facilitator.
“There has definitely been a reduction in out-of-school suspensions,” Trout told the audience.
Educators, school administrators, students and community groups representatives from Louisiana and parts of Mississippi are gathering in New Orleans this week for “Rethink Discipline,” a conference designed to address means of disciplining youths other than suspending them, expelling them or even jailing them. Speakers include Lauren Trout, a restorative practices facilitator working for the Jefferson Parish District Attorney’s Office and the Jefferson Parish Public Schools System. Among those attending on Tuesday was Erin Valls, project grant manager for the Jefferson Parish Public School System. (JPDA Photos)
Held annually, the conferences bring together counselor educators, counseling graduate students and counseling practitioners from across the United States to review the latest trends and developments in the areas of law and ethics in counseling, according to event organizers.
Atlazova and fellow doctoral student Dustin Reed will present “Counseling, Boundary Issues, Multiple Relationships and Ethics,” during the weeklong conference. The presentation touches on a range of ethical matters, from touching in therapy to prohibited relationships.
A native of Bulgaria who immigrated to the United States 10 years ago, Atlazova, P.L.P.C., N.C.C., is a doctoral student in counseling at the University of Holy Cross in Algiers, formerly Our Lady of Holy Cross College. She holds a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling from the University of New Orleans and has been employed at the District Attorney’s Office for more than two years.
The University of Holy Cross is hosting this year’s conference, began on Sunday Sunday (April 3) through Thursday at the Archdiocese of New Orleans Retreat Center in Metairie. A conference committee selects who’ll speak at the events.
Atlazova’s presentation is 10:15 a.m., on Thursday (April 7).
West Jefferson High School is in its first year of using a program designed to resolve conflicts among its students, from the incidental classroom clashes to the gang-like rivalries that spill over onto the Harvey campus.
But already, Assistant Principal John Kulakowski says, “restorative practices approach” has had a “tremendous” effect at the institution. Fewer students are being suspended or expelled, because a newly trained facilitator is guiding warring students and their families to confront their disputes in face-to-face settings called “talking circles” or “community circles.”
The goal is to not only keep students in school and out of the juvenile criminal justice system, but to teach them conflict resolution. In the school setting, it also allows teachers and administrators to tend to other pressing issues instead of being mired in disciplinary actions, Kulakowski said.
“It does work, if done properly,” Kulakowski told the Jefferson Parish Children and Youth Planning Board during its Jan. 26 meeting.
Kulakowski spoke of Restorative Justice, a program implemented in school systems nationally during the past decade as an alternative to simply kicking students with disciplinary problems out of school or having them arrested.
Jefferson Parish Juvenile Court judges began looking at Restorative Justice in 2011, incorporating it into the court’s Families in Need of Services program, said Blake Bascle, deputy chief of the District Attorney’s Office pre-trial diversion program.
A the time, Bascle worked for the Juvenile Court, which extended Restorative Justice practices to Roosevelt Middle School in Kenner, he said. The program migrated with Bascle to the District Attorney’s Office, where DA Paul Connick Jr. authorized Restorative Justice be implemented into the Pre-trial Juvenile Diversion program.
“With Mr. Connick’s support and grant funding support from the Baptist Community Ministries Foundation, the rest is history,” Pam Occhipinti, who has overseen Connick’s diversion program since 2012, said of the spread of Restorative Justice from the courts to juvenile diversion to the public school system.
Pre-trial Juvenile Diversion is a voluntary counseling program done in lieu of prosecution for certain youths between the ages of 10 and 17. If they successfully complete the program, prosecutors can refuse or dismiss the criminal charges.
In the Juvenile Diversion program, Restorative Justice is used in cases involving fights, thefts from a person, destroying another person’s property, assaults and batteries or any incident where “both parties are willing to come together to discuss the harm that was done,” said Michaela Bono, who oversees the Restorative Justice program created more than two years ago.
Youths charged with offenses such as narcotics, inter-family incidents and theft of goods from big chain stores aren’t candidates for Restorative Justice, Bono said. Now, it has spread to the schools.
“Because of Mr. Connick’s willingness to be at the forefront of change, the public school system experienced the positive effects of what we were doing,” Occhipinti said. “They partnered with us to help expand a new approach to conflict resolution.”
“These are processes that build and restore relationships,” said Lauren Trout, a restorative practices school specialist for the District Attorney’s Office and public school system. “It’s not another program. It’s not something you pull off a shelf.”
In schools, Trout said, students are taught math and other subjects. “And if they don’t know how to behave, we punish them,” she said. And that teaches students what not to do. Restorative practices helps students build relationships while retaining individuals’ dignity.
Gathering in what’s called “restorative circles” or “community conferences,” parties involved in the conflict are brought together to repair the harm caused by a particular incident, Trout said.
“Circles are always voluntary, meaning that everyone that comes to the circle is there because they agree to handle the matter through a community conference,” Trout said. “And its goals are for everyone to have a voice in repairing the harm done by the conflict or incident, and restoring the relationship.
“Rather than ask the questions ‘what rule or law was broken, and how do we punish?’ we are asking ‘what happened, who was affected and how, and what does everyone need to feel better?’” Trout said.
Trained and certified facilitators, such as Trout, plan the circles, where everyone involved or affected by an incident has the opportunity to share their experiences, she said. From there, the parties that include the juveniles’ families, agree on what needs to be done to repair the harm. Trout recalls a case she facilitated at a school where a student made online death threats toward the principal.
“After meeting with the student and his family, and then meeting with the principal, I brought the group together and facilitated a circle in which the student expressed many feelings of isolation and loneliness within the school community, which ultimately led to his actions that got him arrested,” Trout said.
“For the principal, who said she would feel the situation was resolved if the student felt less isolated, repairing the harm from the situation meant not further isolating him from the school community, but rather encouraging him to participate in the school community,” Trout said. “With the help of, and monitored by his parents, the student got involved in a student climate leadership and other after-school activities, and everyone in the circle had their needs met.”
In addition to West Jefferson High School, Alfred Bonnabel Magnet Academy High School and Grace King High School have fully implemented the program schoolwide, she said. Livaudais Middle School will implement the program school-wide in the coming academic year, while John Q. Adams Middle School has trained sixth grade teachers and is building out the program during the next three years, she said.
All of the schools were trained and supported through the Center for Restorative Approaches, a New Orleans-based organization that is working with the Jefferson Parish Public School System, Trout said. The U.S. Education Department’s School Climate Transformation Grant program has funded the work – and pays her salary, she added.
Speaking to the Jefferson Children and Youth Planning Board on Jan. 26, Kulakowski endorsed the program and said more schools should adopt it.
“It’s going to drastically reduce the conflict,” Kulakowski said.