Promoting Empathy through Equitable Resolution (PEER)

CYFA strives to bring together community in the pursuit of racial and social justice.  CYFA created Promoting Empathy through Equitable Resolution (PEER) not only to address racial inequities in the juvenile legal system, but also to provide a more effective and fair alternative to the traditional responses to delinquency and school discipline.  PEER applies restorative justice practices to address harmful behavior.  A restorative approach to justice goes beyond punishment through facilitated dialogue that both ensures accountability and repairs relationships.  PEER differs from other restorative programs because it empowers youth to resolve disputes in a peer-to-peer setting supported by trained restorative practitioners. 

Restorative Practices v. Retributive Justice

At its core, the justice system is the government’s response to crime.  In the United States, the traditional response seeks to punish certain behaviors and, to a lesser extent, rehabilitate those who engage in them.  This process largely ignores the victim’s needs, the community’s input, and the harm’s underlying cause.  Since the traditional justice system’s reliance on incarceration has had disparate impacts on minority communities while also failing to reduce recidivism, punitive justice compels re-examination. 

Restorative justice differs from traditional forms because it pursues different goals—i.e., ensuring accountability, repairing relationships, and restoring victims and the community.  Restorative justice practitioners bring together the person who caused harm, the person who was harmed, and the impacted community through facilitated dialogue.  This process empowers the person harmed by providing a voice in the outcome and an opportunity to heal, enables the person who engaged in harm to learn from his/her mistakes and make amends, and allows the community to affirm its values and re-invest in its members. 

Retributive JusticeRestorative Practices
Promotes accountability through punishmentPromotes accountability through repairing harm and restoring relationships
Encourages offenders to focus on themselves because of the adversarial system and disincentivizes offenders from acknowledging responsibility for fear of harsher punishmentEncourage those who have committed harm to understand the impact of their behavior and urges them to take steps to repair the harm by making things right as best as possible
Uses shame to deter future conductUses empathy and responsibility to support personal transformation
Passive such that its focus is simply to ensure the offender receives punishment he deserves for his crime against the StateActive such that its focus is on needs – the person who caused the harm, the person(s) harmed, and the community
Victims are not actively represented in the processPersons harmed (as primary actors) and the community (as secondary actors) are central to the process
Participants do not play an active role; each participant’s interests are represented by professionalsEmpowers each participant by playing an active, direct role
Backwards-looking (focus on past behavior)Forward-looking (focus is on repairing harm and restoring balance)

PEER’s Goals

PEER is a youth-led, victim-centered restorative practice program, structured within the Assets framework, to divert young people from the juvenile legal and school disciplinary systems for behaviors attributable to adolescence.  PEER creates partnerships between key stakeholders and the community to allow young people to avoid formal legal system involvement and reduced loss of instruction time due to disciplinary sanctions.  PEER confers power to community in relation to institution to disestablish historical systemic trauma and oppression.  PEER’s goals are:

1) reduce disproportionate minority youth representation in the juvenile legal system and school disciplinary proceedings;

2) hold young people who commit harm accountable for their actions without exposing them to the risks of a criminal record or school disciplinary record;

3) provide persons who have been harmed an opportunity to be actively involved in resolution of their case;

4) reduce the likelihood of young person’s future harmful criminal and behavioral acts; and

5) develop leaders to move with greater agency, confidence, skill, knowledge, and empathy to create a more equitable and just legal system. 

PEER Methodology

PEER is a holistic, community-based program. Any person can refer a young person to PEER for behavior resulting in harm. Thus, a young person, parent, community member, law enforcement officer, teacher, or school official can refer a young person to PEER for an action that would amount to a misdemeanor or nonviolent felony. PEER offers the ability to resolve matters affecting young people outside of the legal system – true (pre-charge) diversion. PEER’s community-based restorative conferencing program for young people also can be used as a diversion option, dispositional tool, and other option to prevent further entrenchment into the juvenile legal system.

Participation in PEER’s community-based restorative conferencing program is entirely voluntary. CYFA is committed to honoring self-determination of all parties involved in PEER. Restorative practice requires the person who committed the harm to acknowledge wrongdoing. Therefore, if the person alleged to have engaged in wrongdoing is not willing to voluntarily admit committing the harmful act, PEER cannot be used. Each PEER referral is evaluated prior to acceptance. Once a matter is accepted by PEER, a participants can expect the following:

1. Preconference meetings to occur separately (individually) with the person who committed the harm, the person harmed, and the caretakers, family, and supportive systems of the people the parties involved. It is important to note that restorative practice aims to build or repair relationships through a culture of respect and responsibility. This includes relationship to self.

2. A Restorative Conference after the preconference meetings have been held and all parties have voluntarily committed to the process. The Conference brings the parties together to understand needs, harms, and impacts of harm. Through the Conference, the parties work together to develop a plan that meets the needs of all who participated.

3. Plan completion is the process in which the young person who committed the harm completes the requirements set forth in the conference plan. Conference participants are informed once completion has occurred.

4. Post-completion process provides additional closure to the restorative process through follow-up evaluation and opportunity to acknowledge the outcomes.

Restorative justice is born in community – PEER is held by community meaning its processes operate outside of the legal and disciplinary systems. PEER’s restorative conferencing processes are held by experienced restorative practitioners and co-facilitated by PEER Ambassadors/Youth Facilitators. Through restorative practice, communities are able to vision healing and community well-being. It allows communities to galvanize around shifting community culture around public safety. It creates space to reimagine community policing and system reform.

CYFA developed PEER to give youth voice and power. PEER empowers young people to resolve disputes through peer learning and engagement. As discussed below, PEER Ambassadors are young people in 10th, 11th, and 12th grades who have received intensive training through CYFA’s high-quality, in-depth, and comprehensive PEER curriculum focused on systems, power, identity, trauma, anti-racism, and restorative practice.

PEER is data-driven and informed. CYFA engages in robust data collection to evaluate the manner in which PEER is utilized and under-utilized to provide transparency on how the legal and school disciplinary systems address and handle harm committed by young people.

Anti-Racism Curriculum

PEER’s curriculum is grounded in an active learning praxis where each participant: 

1. Learns from the actions and outputs of the training itself; and

2. Supports and empowers self-regulated learning by promoting use of critical thinking skills to advance new insights, points of view, innovative responses and results. 

The training model utilizes in and out-of-session learning, homework and practice, and collaborative exercises.  PEER training provides PEER Ambassadors/Youth Facilitators the skills, confidence, and expertise to co-facilitate restorative conferencing with experienced restorative practitioners.  

Each PEER Ambassador/Youth Facilitator has access to CYFA’s high-quality curriculum.  Each thematic module has clear objectives for mastery. The modules present multiple perspectives to provide understanding of the systems of power that have upheld racism and enforced systemic and structural oppression while, also, highlighting the resilience, power, and strength of those who have been negatively impacted and historically oppressed.  CYFA’s PEER curriculum intentionally decentralizes white colonial narratives and operates through an anti-racism lens.  It cultivates deeper learning to foster and support complex critical thinking skills and decision-making skills, and the PEER curriculum builds and amplifies leadership skills. 

Identity work is intentionally embedded in the PEER curriculum because understanding and appreciating identity, culture, and diversity encourages thoughtful discourse to restructure power dynamics and disrupt systems.  Participation in PEER as a PEER Ambassador/Youth Facilitator supports each young person’s desire to advance civic and social responsibility to agitate against racism, bias, oppression, and inequities.  PEER’s anti-racism curriculum encourages life-long examination of policies, processes, and practices of the structures and systems of the environments in which each participant holds space.  

PEER Ambassadors/Youth Facilitators and the Assets Framework

Young people are the most effective ambassadors of transformation and will lead the next generation towards a more fair and balanced system for addressing not only adolescent harm but, also, reforming retributive systems.  PEER is intentionally designed to support peer learning in two ways:

1.  The PEER curriculum incorporates opportunities for sharing knowledge, ideas, and experiences between participants.  Participants formally and informally challenge and extend each other’s thinking, which extends conceptual learning and investment in theory and philosophy.  

2.  Young people listen to one another.  Youth participants in PEER will serve as PEER Ambassadors/Youth Facilitators in that they will model a culture of responsibility through their investment in restorative practices.  PEER empowers PEER Ambassadors/Youth Facilitators to recognize their agency in the community and, through that determination, each PEER Ambassador/Youth Facilitator will be empowered to transform student culture and school climate to achieve increased community safety and overall well-being. 

PEER endorses the Search Institute’s Developmental Assets Framework, a set of 40 positive supports, opportunities, and relationship qualities young people need across all aspects of their lives (i.e., “external assets”) and personal skills, social emotional strengths, self-perceptions, and values they need to make good choices, take responsibility for their actions, and to be independent (i.e., “internal assets”).  PEER participants will: 

1. Feel supported by caring non-parent adults;

2. Experience a caring, encouraging school environment;

3. Feel empowered and valued by adults in the community;

4. Be engaged in a defined/useful role and will serve his/her community;

5. Experience clear, defined rules and consequences at school;

6. Model positive peer behavior to one another;

7. Engage in a valued youth-based program;

8. Be motivated to do well in school and care about it;

9. Place a high value on helping others and promoting equity, equality, and social justice;

10. Exercise responsibility, cultural competence, honesty, interpersonal competence, and peaceful conflict resolution; and

11. Experience personal power over the actions in his/her life. 

PEER Advances Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Goals and System Reforms

PEER directly aligns with diversity, equity, and inclusion goals and police practices and criminal legal system reform initiatives.  CYFA’s community engagement, intake, evaluation, education/training, and restorative conferencing processes are centered in anti-racism.  PEER was created to dismantle structural practices that result in systemic oppression and provide equitable opportunities to go beyond punishment to the heart of personal accountability, victim empowerment, and increased community safety:

1.  Recognizing systemic approaches were historically designed to disadvantage and disproportionately affect minority communities, PEER focuses on creating equitable solutions through community-based programming. PEER is a community-based program that diverts young people from legal system and school disciplinary system involvement. PEER is an equitable, safe alternative for those impacted by harm.

2. PEER shifts cultural and societal reliance on police resources.  PEER can be utilized by any person, and harmed persons or businesses can seek to utilize PEER services without police involvement. 

3. CYFA is committed to racial and social justice and it speaks authentically to communities impacted by systemic racism.  It also provides resources to communities who may not seek law enforcement assistance but require resolution to harm caused by young people.

4. PEER reimagines community policing beyond engagement to systemic reform.  It provides an opportunity to reframe police response from adversarial to solution-focused. 

5. PEER engages in robust data collection and analysis not only to inform future programming but also to provide institutional and societal accountability. 

Please contact CYFA to learn more about PEER and other programming to dismantle the cradle-to-prison pipeline.

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