Focus on restorative justice to lower incarceration rates


    WHEELING, W.Va.,-Wheeling Jesuit University hosted an event focusing on creating a better future for troubled youth.

    In 2013, West Virginia had the second highest youth incarceration rate with 510 confinements.

    Tuesday, local students and the community came together to find ways of lowering that number.

    Four area panelists presented their thoughts on reforming youth incarceration in West Virginia---as Ohio Valley residents and students listened.

    Director of the Appalachian Institute at Wheeling Jesuit University Beth Collins says the event is "To empower youth, to help educate prisoners, to help families and also to help bring about a restorative approach rather than the typical punitive approach in our criminal justice system."

    The West Virginia Center Officer James Lee believes more restorative justice could help, "Resolving the conflict for the best interest of the victim and bringing peace to community "

    Lee started a juvenile mediation program in 1996---where the offender and the victim come together to repair emotional and material harm caused by the crime.

    He says it's been successful, but needs to replace immediate incarceration, " We do a pool of the victim and the parents who go through our process, 97% of victims preferred this than juvenile court, 96% of the parents and children preferred this process, it takes the retribution part out of it and makes it a

    restorative process, forgiveness, acceptance."

    Also, racial disparity is another issue that needs addressed---Takeyia Smith helped start an organization focused on anti-racism in the state.

    She says, "Blacks were being arrested at twice the rate or about more than twice the rate as whites and we thought this is something we need to talk about and addressed."

    Smith works with the Charleston Police Department and the American Civil Liberties Union---acquiring body cameras is one step they've taken.

    Smith adds, "It makes more sense so people aren't just getting locked up and thrown away, we have to come up with better solutions than that."

    Experts say keeping more children out of confinement can lead to a better future for children and the state.

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