The Restorative Justice Center, a new Atlanta nonprofit organization that received its 501 (c) (3) status from the IRS in March 2005, was established to expand and enhance the alternative sentencing programs of Atlanta’s Community Court, a division of The Municipal Court of Atlanta. The Community Court, in operation since 2000, is a problem-solving initiative similar to others that have been springing up across the nation in recent years. Testing innovative ways to deliver justice to difficult populations, problem-solving courts are designed to change the behavior of offenders, prevent future offending and make communities safer and healthier.
The Restorative Justice Center (RJC) and the Community Court seek new solutions to chronic problems like homelessness, addiction and mental illness that have always proven resistant to traditional judicial strategies. Offenders with similar problems commit what are known as “quality of life” crimes such as disorderly conduct, prostitution, panhandling, drinking in public and trespassing. Alternative sentences are designed to address the underlying issues that have led to criminal behavior. Offenders get the help they need, future crimes are prevented and costly adjudication and incarceration are saved for those who pose a true threat to public safety.
The Restorative Justice Center was established to seek private funding and raise awareness about restorative justice programs in ways unavailable to government. In fact, the creation of the organization was a response to Mayor Franklin’s including the expansion of Community Court as one of the seven goals outlined in her “Seven Points to End Homelessness” in the Regional Commission on Homelessness report of 2003. About the programs of the Court, the report stated they were a humane alternative to incarceration and often served as a gateway for homeless mentally ill and/or addicted people to receive needed treatment.
We’re off to a good start and most appreciative of the “start-up” funding that has been provided by the City of Atlanta. It has made possible the hiring of one staff person to coordinate the activities of the Board of Directors and seek grants and donations. Since inception more than $350,000 has been raised to enhance the programs of the Court. Of particular note is a grant received from the U.S. Department of Justice for $200,000 for a two-year period. The awarding of this grant brought with it national recognition, as only ten were distributed for problem-solving initiatives across the country.
The Board of Directors, which began with three founding board members, has increased to a total of twelve. They include two consumers of court programs, attorneys, clergy, experts in non-profit management and mental health issues and community activists.