For more than half a decade, the Legal Skills in Social Context (LSSC) program at Northeastern University School of Law (NUSL) has invested a lot of capital into an emerging niche in the field of law called restorative justice. LSSC has focused on training lawyers to shift paradigms and procedures from schools to juvenile courts and over time, some of the students have been so impacted by their work at NUSL that as attorneys they continue to dedicate their time and resources to promote further social change.
Since 2006 nearly 100 students at NUSL have participated in a signature first year team lawyering course completing five distinct projects and nearly 12,000 hours of research on restorative justice school discipline and juvenile court diversionary alternatives. Their research found that school discipline and the juvenile justice system has become increasingly punitive and adversarial, conflating the educational, juvenile and adult criminal systems to funnel the former to the latter. NUSL student law office teams developed two restorative justice tracks, a school based model and a juvenile court diversionary model responsive to projects proposed by school and court client organizations to partner with their communities. The core elements of the models are: institutional engagement, replicable procedural frameworks, volunteerism, youth empowerment, voice, accountability and remedy.
Why Did JCRJD Launch in Lowell?
Recognizing the need for something different, in 2008, First Justice of the Middlesex Juvenile Court, Judge Jay Blitzman, began to host monthly school-court meetings to explore how to keep more youth in school and out of the court system. Still today, attorneys, law enforcement officers, and school administrators meet monthly to discuss alternatives. A partnership between Judge Blitzman’s work and the other stakeholders in Middlesex County, including the Middlesex District Attorney's Office helped shape the policies and procedures of Juvenile Court Restorative Justice Diversion (JCRJD). In January 2013, JCRJD successfully completed the pilot phase of its program and has since started to expand.