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RADIUS program for girls in Minnesota offers a gender-specific model.

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.

There are many ways in which RADIUS is different than other, more traditional, juvenile offender programs. In particular, when compared to other programs, this program:

* Accepts, encourages, and even immerses itself in the complexities and difficulties of the girls' lives;

* Focuses on the process by which girls are healed and supported;

* Takes a holistic approach to both program delivery and the measurement of program success; and

* Explores and supports both the personal (e.g., hope and faith) and interpersonal (e.g., family and community relationships) dynamics of healing, making amends and ultimately moving forward.

It is essential to address each girl's offending behavior and victimization issues concurrently. In order to take responsibility for her offending behavior, she must understand there are things she was not responsible for (being a victim) and things she is responsible for (being an offender). Without this acknowledgement of her victimization, a girl has a very difficult time learning anything from others and moving forward.

Outcomes for girls in RADIUS vary greatly and are not easy to define. However, patterns of changed attitudes, behaviors and commitments on the part of the girls, their families, their communities, their victims and their professional staff are clearly evident. Relationships heal and change and commitments occur--sometimes in stunning ways. As one family member commented, "We have been through years of family therapy, and never had a conversation like this."

The program model has already been successfully replicated with girls on probation in Ramsey County, Minn. and is scheduled to be expanded as a detention-to-community program for girls at the Ramsey County Juvenile Detention Center. A significant number of these girls have remained in contact and have continued participation in the program even after their mandated attendance was complete. One girl expressed how the program has helped her: "Terry has helped me to know how I was really feeling on the inside, and then she helps me to say it in ways that people would listen to me. Then I can get the help that I needed. I have always used my anger and violence to get what I wanted and that wouldn't work for me and I would hurt other people. I didn't think there was any other way to tell people things. Terry showed me there is. I don't have to be so mad all the time, cuss people out and push them away. Terry showed me that not everyone will hurt me or leave me. She always gives me hope, and I do know people care no matter what I do or say. I don't have to be pissed off at the world."

One point is nearly unanimous among people who do this work: girls respond to this type of programming. Girls know instantly if professionals think they know their problems and how to solve them, and they will either resent this condescension or willingly hand over their lives for others to solve, or both. If this happens, the battle is already lost. The RADIUS program helps girls and their families identify, own and solve their problems to create lasting change, even when life continues to be "messy" and hard.

There is no question that this is a very different, and often more time-consuming, approach compared to the typical male-oriented, rule-based approach. Relationships take time to build. No wonder some staff members who try to work with girls in standard programs shudder and say, "I'll take 10 boys rather than two girls." Talented staff members can be frustrated when their programming is poorly received by girls and welcome the opportunity to try something different. There are many reasons that girls are difficult to treat in the standard way: they do not like to be told what to do by people who do not know them; they are very articulate; they are relationship-oriented; and they have a lot of emotional history that they bring to every situation. The RADIUS program has succeeded by using these characteristics as an asset rather than a frustration.

A restorative approach, because it engages family and community and seeks solutions from outside the system, tends to lend itself to a more culturally competent process. This is evidenced by the satisfaction of families and communities participating in the RADIUS program, particularly those of color. The program is certainly not an easy or simple process, but the payoff is worthwhile and lasting, even when the realities of the girls' lives continue to be challenging.

AMICUS' experiences with the RADIUS program during the past six years have generated a wealth of stories and expertise in how to work with girls. AMICUS' 70-page report, From Corrections to Connections, shares many stories of the girls' experiences with the program to illustrate what this program is all about in a concrete way. The report includes what the program delivers and lessons learned to assist those who may wish to replicate RADIUS.

Katya Goodenough-Gordon is a RADIUS program director and Louise Wolfgramm is the president of AMICUS. For more information, please request a copy of From Corrections to Connections, or contact Louise Wolfgramm at louise@amicususa.org or (612) 348-8570, ext.11.
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Title Annotation:Juvenile Justice News
Author:Goodenough-Gordon, Katya
Publication:Corrections Today
Geographic Code:1U4MN
Date:Aug 1, 2006
Words:1472
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