Young People in Chicago Tackle School-to-Prison Pipeline
Date:  12-30-2014

Restorative circles may be a way to achieve personal and public safety
The following article appeared in YES! Magazine. Yes! adapted it from Maya Schenwar’s critically acclaimed book Locked Down, Locked Out: Why Prisons Don’t Work and How We Can Do Better.

Kids on Chicago’s West Side Break the School-to-Prison Pipeline with Restorative Circles

For these Chicago students, restorative justice isn’t just about causing less harm to those around us. It’s also about actively creating safety, on their own terms.

by Maya Schenwar

As a rising call to close prisons and reduce prison population takes hold, skeptics continually ask what will “replace” them. Of course, for many who are currently in prison, the answer is “nothing”—they are incarcerated for crimes that have harmed no one, often simply because they are black or brown or gender-nonconforming or poor.

Some people, though, are incarcerated for acts that have caused harm, and are supposedly incarcerated for the “safety” of the rest of society. And so, as we work toward decarceration, it’s crucial to have frank discussions about what “safety” would mean, in the context of specific communities. Transformative and restorative justice practices offer possibilities for responding to violence in different ways, but they also provide the chance to formulate visions of true collective safety. The healing circles and conversations that are often part of restorative justice practices, for example, offer a place where people can ask, “How can we create an environment that doesn’t just respond effectively to harm once it happens but also actively creates safety on our communities’ own terms?”

This is one of the largest questions in the universe, and one with which humans have been grappling since well before the rise of the prison-industrial complex. Much, obviously, has already been written about it. However, I want to look at a few cases in which community is nurtured in creative ways, paving the road toward lasting, widespread, collective safety.

One such flashpoint is Chicago’s Community Builders (CB) program, a summer school that trains high school students—mostly poor students of color from neighborhoods with high rates of violence—in community-based justice principles and circle-keeping. In the summer of 2013, their focus is the concept of “safe space” itself: What defines it? What happens in its absence? How can we create it in our environments? At the end of the program, the kids go out into the community, initiating circles with different groups like park district summer camps and unemployment programs.

Read full article here.