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Circle Process Addressing Youth and Police Involved in May Protests: A Collaborative Effort

In July 2020 Concord Mediation Center (CMC), an ODR-approved center, in collaboration with the Douglas County Juvenile Assessment Center (JAC) and the Omaha Police Department (OPD) embarked on a restorative process to promote positive dialogue between youth and members of the OPD. The JAC referred thirteen youth ticketed during the protests to the CMC to participate in the restorative process and eight chose to participate. The five OPD officers who participated were also directly involved or on duty during the protests.

A Circle process was chosen to facilitate the dialogue between youth and police officers. Specifically, a Circle of Understanding was used to promote equity and connectivity between participants. At the start of the process, the group determined its norms – values to guide and behaviors to ensure a safe space – and agreed upon respect, empathy, and presence.

For each session, the circle-keepers were intentional in creating a safe and respectful space for conversation. Sessions focused on building trust and relationships, hearing individual stories, and having discussions about how to move forward.

The primary goal was to allow space for participants to identify collective values, share their individual stories, and work towards mutual understanding. Each person participated authentically, allowing conversations to take place, and culminated with them writing impact statements highlighting lessons learned. Youth reflections indicate that they did not want the process to end and that they would like to be included if a similar opportunity presents itself.

At the end of the circle process, both youth and officers agreed that:

  • There are benefits to having this type of dialogue.
  • Others should be encouraged to engage in this positive way.
  • It is important to hold themselves and others accountable.

The final question asked of all participants was, “Do you feel your voice was heard?” and all of the participants said “Yes!” The circle process was deemed a success by all.

All ODR-approved centers have restorative justice facilitators that have been trained in circle processes. For more information on services available, contact the center serving your county or Kelly Riley.