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CCNP Conferencing Project, April 1998

Posted 1998-04-30

Downtown Minnesota Residents Association
Stevens Square Community Organization
Citizens for a Loring Park Community
Elliot Park Neighborhood Inc.

Central City Neighborhoods Partnership

110 E. 18th Street, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55403
Phone: 871-7307 Fax: 879-2917


CCNP Community Conferencing

April 1998

The CCNP Community Conferencing pilot program in Minneapolis has held twelve conferences to date. In a short period of time, we are learning much about what it takes to effectively address livability crime at the neighborhood level through a collective effort centered on restorative justice principles. Conferencing began in the CCNP neighborhoods of Stevens Square, Loring Park, Elliot Park, and Downtown in September, 1997.

Overview

The restorative framework of Community Conferencing places our emphasis on repairing the damage of crime. In each of our conferences, we bring together the offender, the victim, their supporters, and people who live or work in the neighborhood where the offense took place to discuss the impact of the incident on those affected. A team of trained facilitators then helps the group develop a formal agreement which describes how the offender will make amends to the victim and community. All conference participants, including the offender, make a voluntary decision to be part of the program.

Offenders who opt for Conferencing over the court process have no formal plea entered on their record, and their charges are dropped if they are successful. However, this incentive is not the only reason offenders are choosing to participate. Two have mentioned the dialogue as an attractive component--simply the chance to be dealt with on a personal level. Others have sought closure, an opportunity to acknowledge their mistake and put it in the past.

With some minor changes to the original list, the eligible misdemeanor offenses presently include Criminal Damage to Property, Solicitation of a Prostitute, Trespassing, Disorderly Conduct or Indecent Exposure (for public urination), Theft, Petty Theft, Begging, and Consuming in Public. Shoplifting remains on hold, pending approval from the City Attorney's Office.

Statistics

The majority of conferences to date have dealt with prostitution, although many other eligible cases have been referred to the program. For several reasons, we are seeing that it takes multiple referrals to produce a handful of actual conferences: offenders sometimes have a violent history, which automatically rules them out; a prompt court resolution can occur before the City Attorney's Office gets the referral; prosecutors are dismissing some of the eligible cases; and an offender always has the opportunity to decline the Conferencing alternative.

Most police referrals are made by the CCP/SAFE unit rather than by arresting officers, but two officers recently made referrals at arrest. In the pipeline for Conferencing are 23 arrests for consuming, theft, public urination, shoplifting, and soliciting a prostitute. A total of 84 referrals have been recommended for the program by the police department, private attorneys, neighborhoods, or the City Attorney's Office. Of these, 59 were eligible offenders, including the twelve who have successfully participated. Since Elliot Park neighborhood has not yet had a conference, we will be giving top priority to those cases this spring.

Six of the twelve offenders in the program have already completed their agreements, and none have new arrests in Hennepin County. All conferences which have taken place so far have succeeded in accomplishing an agreement for reparative activities. Agreements have involved such requirements as participating in the neighborhood block patrol, serving meals for the homeless at a local church, paying off parking tickets and obtaining a valid license, writing a letter of apology, going to a support group, attending a victim impact panel, and participating in a follow-up conference. The agreements are usually a combination of items. A recent conference agreement specified two hours of litter pick-up in the arrest area and nine hours of service at the nursing home four blocks away. While there is an emphasis on filling needs in the community, victims and offenders often incorporate their own ideas for reparative activities.

Outcomes

Volunteers and staff who are monitoring the conference agreements have observed total compliance on the part of offenders. Reported satisfaction from participants--victims, offenders, supporters, and community members--is nearly 100%.

Other positive outcomes are plentiful: offenders continuing with community service they have found they enjoy; long-term relationships established between offenders and the community; and new volunteers in facilitator training able to meet for the first time and network on the side. Feedback from organizations on the receiving end is favorable. The Clara Doerr residence has asked for additional help at their group home, and staff at St. Mark's Church say they are "delighted" with the program after having an offender serve meals there. Law enforcement seems pleased as well. A police officer involved in three prostitution arrests reports that she is "totally satisfied" after learning the conference outcomes.

Other effects are perhaps even more profound. One offender says, "I think about what would have happened to me if this didn't exist, if I didn't have this chance--not because of the penalty (criminal record), but because I wanted to tell my story." A community member who participated in a follow-up conference spoke of "reweaving the community," ending this meeting with the words, "Welcome back." One Conferencing participant arrested for soliciting a prostitute completed the program months ago, but just returned from Kenya with a gift: a wooden sculpture depicting men and women working for their community.

Challenges that we have encountered in developing the conference process and volunteer roles have resulted in improvements made after consultation with the community members involved in this neighborhood program. Hopefully, open communication and a strong feedback loop allows us to learn as we go and have even greater results over time.

Community Involvement

About 35 people who live or work in the CCNP area have participated in conferences to represent the impact of crime on them and the community. In March, we held a formal two-day training for thirteen new volunteer facilitators, which gives us the increased capacity to hold four to six conferences each month. In our outreach efforts, we have met 112 people who are interested in the program and may wish to participate in future conferences. Another 70 are already actively involved.

The residents and staff of the CCNP neighborhoods have worked closely with the Minneapolis Police Department and City Attorney's Office to develop and implement this program under grants from the Minneapolis and McKnight Foundations. Community Conferencing is a unique collaborative effort which is providing very valuable information not only to us, but also to other communities across the county, state, and country who are interested in this approach to restorative justice. As the first neighborhood-operated Conferencing program, and the first to deal with adult offenders in an urban setting, CCNP Community Conferencing will be featured in a three-day national "Conference on Conferencing" this August.

For more information, or to get involved, please call Gena or John at 871-7307.