Methodists work for restorative justice in Northern Ireland
10/20/2003 News media contact: Tim Tanton · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.
For related coverage, see UMNS stories #497 and #499.
By Kathleen LaCamera*BELFAST,
Northern Ireland (UMNS) - Methodists are backing a new restorative
justice program that helps young people face the real consequences of
their antisocial behavior.
In the past, East Belfast teenagers
caught stealing from a local store might get a beating or worse from
local paramilitaries. It has been the paramilitaries, rather than the
police, that this working class community has counted on to make things
right when "young lads" get caught shoplifting, vandalizing a car or
even making too much noise late at night.
The new project, called
East Belfast Alternatives, opened its doors in October and offers a
different way of dealing with children and teens who commit crimes. It
also aims to prevent them from getting into trouble in the first place.
Armitage, a United Methodist Board of Global Ministries-funded
missionary, is part of the project's management team, which includes
police, probation officers, churches, educators, paramilitaries and
social service representatives.
"Everyone has had to work together. It's taken four years to get East Belfast Alternatives opened," Armitage explains.
and her team at the East Belfast Mission run a youth club called
"Luk4," in a former paramilitary pub. Through Luk4, they take on some of
the preventive work key to the restorative justice initiative. That
work includes organizing trips, working in small groups and extending
outreach to area families, something the mission already does as part of
its ongoing pastoral care.
"You can imagine what it's like for
the parents of these children," Armitage explains. "A lot of them are
single mothers who don't know what to do. We want to be involved in
supporting the families, victims and the offenders."
are referred to East Belfast Alternatives by social service agencies,
the police and others. Working with specially trained counselors and
mediators, offenders face the consequences of their actions and may meet
the victims of their crimes.
Performing community service is
part of the restoration process. A similar restorative justice
initiative in the Skankill Road area of north Belfast reports as few as 2
percent of young people involved in the program re-offend.
here have demanded instant justice," explains Jim McKennley, who
manages East Belfast Alternatives. A former paramilitary member himself
who did prison time, McKennley says people now see paramilitarism is not
the answer either in resolving problems between Catholics and
Protestants, or within those groups.
"In conjunction with the
peace process, we have to find nonviolent ways of dealing with all
conflict," McKennley says. "And that means, in the wider sense, within
our communities as well."
Armitage says children as young as 8
years old have benefited from restorative justice efforts. In one
example, she explains how a teenager who kept stealing from a local
store came to understand he was actually taking away the store owner's
"The boy had to go back and clear out the backyard of
the shop, which was a bit humiliating, but in the process he got to know
the shopkeeper," Armitage recounts. "Trust built up, and the boy
eventually got a job in the shop."
Not only has crime fallen
dramatically in areas where similar restorative justice programs are in
place, but real reconciliation has occurred, she says.
"Many people's lives have been restored," Armitage says. "The church should be involved with this."
More information is available at www.ebm.org.uk.
# # #
*LaCamera is a United Methodist News Service correspondent based in England.
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