Since 2011, the city of Reedley, Calif. has seen more than 210 juvenile offenders make amends for their misdemeanors through Reedley Peace Building Initiative (RPBI), a program initiated by West Coast MCC. The program works by restoring the broken relationship with the victims and allows the offenders to make amends for their offenses through a mediation process.
The city recently won a state award for excellence in public safety because of a joint peacebuilding program operated cooperatively by Reedley Police Department, West Coast Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) and Kings Canyon School District.
The three organizations have worked together to reduce juvenile felony crimes by 75 percent and misdemeanors by 40 percent because of a community-wide emphasis on approaching youth in a positive, restorative way in the community.
Juvenile offenders are referred to RPBI by the school district and from the police department. John Swenning, restorative justice director for West Coast MCC, coordinates the mediation process – assigning a trained mediator to work with the victim, the offender and their families.
Out of the 210 juveniles that have been involved in RPBI mediations, only 5 percent have reoffended. The Helen Putnam Award for Excellence recognizes the city for supporting RPBI program and the positive results in juvenile crime reduction because of the mediation process.
Mediator Kimberly Baker said that the power of the mediation comes when the victim and offender sit across the table from each other and really hear and listen to each other.
“Hearts begin to soften, minds are changed, opinions are changed, those perceptions we have walking into a situation like that are changed and more often than not you walk away with a peaceful resolution, which is what you are trying to achieve."
Thirty community organizations and agencies have allowed juvenile offenders to work in the community to make restitution for their crimes.
Chief Joe Garza told Western City magazine, “The program is about giving our kids a second chance and creating a healthier community. The opportunities that arise when someone can take ownership of an offense and still be accepted into the community help to build confidence and a sense of appreciation in our young people.”
RBPI is not just about reducing the juvenile offences, but about bring the community together to help in the restoration process.
“MCC will do what it takes to build relationship and community,” Swenning says. “not just between people, but other organizations, agencies and community leaders. MCC is the glue that keeps things together."
“The coolest thing about working for MCC and being a part of this whole process through my role at MCC is that everything we do to restore kid’s lives and people’s lives is everything that MCC is about building peace, serving our community, and serving those in need.”