After many hours of training to learn how to facilitate a restorative justice process, I recently had a real case and opportunity to prove my capabilities as a peer mediator and a proponent of restorative justice.

Garfield High student Julia Furukawa helps reduce youth interaction with juvenile justice system through King County's Restorative Mediation program.
Garfield High student Julia Furukawa helps reduce youth interaction with juvenile justice system through King County’s Restorative Mediation program.

The youth in this case had been caught shoplifting from a department store. The store’s security and eventually the police got involved in the incident. The youth was not taken into custody, but her family had to pay a substantial fine for her misstep, and she was banned from the establishment for the foreseeable future.

Not only did the fine have an impact on her mother—who is a single, working parent—but it was a traumatic and embarrassing experience for the teen girl, and one that she clearly regretted.

During the mediation, we learned that many of the items she had taken were toiletries— items that she needed but that the family had been short on recently due to struggles with money.

As a peer mediator, I was able to act as a buffer between the store manager and the young teen. I helped convey her point of view while also fostering an understanding between the participants regarding why she had chosen to steal, and the ramifications that her decision ended up having on her, the manager, and the community as a whole.

juliaBy the end of the hour-long mediation, a clear understanding and bond had formed between the teen and the store manager, who even shared his experience with his own children acting out and how her story related to theirs.

The trespassing charges against the teen were dropped and a real process of healing was started through the mediation. It felt as if a lesson really was learned as we all left that room, which is so often not the case in our current punitive system.

Being a co-mediator is important to me for just that reason: Restorative justice provides an opportunity for offenders and victims to meet in a setting that fosters understanding and the creation of real solutions, which is often precisely what is needed.

By participating in this mediation, I was able to keep a small mistake off of the record of a young girl, and hopefully set her back on the right track again. I hope to continue my involvement in King County Office of Alternative Dispute Resolution’s Restorative Mediation Program to make an even broader impact.

Julia Furukawa is a senior at Garfield High School in Seattle, WA who got involved in restorative justice through the King County Office of Alternative Dispute Resolution. She wants to permanently eliminate the school-to-prison pipeline and change the face of discipline in Seattle and the world. She is headed to George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs for journalism next year and hopes to further restorative justice practices there.

This column was reposted from Expanding the Narrative: Personal stories of government and public service.