Magazine article Corrections Today

RADIUS Program for Girls in Minnesota Offers a Gender-Specific Model

Magazine article Corrections Today

RADIUS Program for Girls in Minnesota Offers a Gender-Specific Model

Article excerpt

Corrections professionals are looking for new models that can effectively address the needs of women and girls in the correctional system and take on the unique challenges they pose. For the past six years, the Minnesota Department of Corrections has partnered with AMICUS (a nonprofit agency) and a juvenile residential placement facility to provide RADIUS, a gender-responsive program for serious and chronic female juvenile offenders.

RADIUS is an innovative effort that blends the philosophies of restorative justice with the best practices of gender-responsive programming for girls under 18. Restorative services are provided to girls while they are in residential placement, during their transition and furlough, and after release. The two key components of the program are restorative justice circles and grief and trauma counseling.

First, using the principles and practices of restorative justice, "circles" of significant people in a girl's life (immediate and extended family, past service providers, teachers, probation officers, social workers, elders, friends and sometimes victims) gather to speak from the heart about the girl, her issues, her past and her future. Circles are held in the girl's home community, both before and after her release from her residential placement. A "talking piece" is passed from hand to hand, allowing each person to speak freely and without interruption. The circle provides a safe space to express support, discuss difficult issues (often for the first time), understand family dynamics and plan for the future.

Second, girls participate in a weekly "girls group" with a trained trauma counselor to address their past victimization, abuse and other topics relating to relationships, self-esteem, personal safety and coping skills. Intensive individual trauma counseling is also provided to each girl.

The program addresses the needs of four stakeholder groups: the girls, the families, the community and the support circle. The girls are the direct client. They come from all over the state, both urban and rural regions. They are considered serious and chronic and have all been committed to the DOC. They have committed at least one offense that is equivalent to a felony. Many of the girls have been victims of emotional, physical and/or sexual abuse; are substance abusers; have mental health issues; are on prescribed medications; are years behind in school; have been in multiple out-of-home placements with social services and corrections; and usually have not lived at home in recent years. Most have little genuine or reliable support from their families or communities, yet they will be returning to these families and communities.

The families of these girls are the secondary clients and they have widely varying characteristics. Many are single parents and/or absent parents also struggling with substance abuse, domestic violence, poverty and poor communication skills. Even the families who appear to be functioning smoothly often reveal deep destructive aspects of their family, which are cloaked in shame and secrecy.

The communities of these girls, including the victims of their offenses, also vary widely and can include foster parents, social workers, friends, teachers and counselors who have cared deeply for the girls. However, many in the community may see them as troublemakers. Most girls feel they have burned bridges and don't know how to go about making amends. Victims have had no opportunity to see them out of court and are either afraid of them or angry with them--usually both.

The girls are encouraged to include their probation officer, county caseworker and social services providers as participants and support people in their circles. Their support is important to the implementation of their plans. Some of these professionals welcome the opportunity to play a support role in the girls' lives, rather than the authority role. They describe the insight into the family and the sharing of many perspectives as invaluable. …

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