The LRC’s mission is: “to provide the highest quality criminal defense and restorative justice services to low-income people, in particular people of color. Our focus is Hennepin County, our priority is juveniles, and our services are at no cost.” Our goals are: to prevent future involvement in the juvenile or criminal justice systems, to support youth self-accountability alongside community capacity to solve issues restoratively, and to productively challenge the impacts of present or historical racial bias.
The LRC operates two programs: the Community Defense Program, and Youth: Education, Advocacy & Restorative Services. This proposal seeks funding for the restorative services component of the latter program.
The Youth: Education, Advocacy & Restorative Services program provides representation in juvenile court, and neutrally facilitates school-based Family Group Conferences – a strengths-based restorative practices method. Youth are referred to the LRC when their behaviors are indicative of severe disengagement from their own education, and the restorative process provides a positive, trajectory shifting, alternative to ineffective punitive outcomes. The project works extensively with the Minneapolis and St. Paul Public Schools districts, while also receiving referrals from: the Suburban Ramsey Schools Collaborative, the Minneapolis Police Department (Juvenile Diversion), the Hennepin County Attorney (Juvenile Diversion), Ramsey and Hennepin Juvenile Probation (when youth return to school from correctional placement or detention), and be@school/Juvenile Court (truancy diversion). For education and advocacy, the program leverages our unique cross-systems (justice/education) and cross-practice (court representation/restorative justice) expertise in youth advocacy networks, and presents education and trainings for youth and/or the professionals working with them in order to promote practices which reduce youth pathways to juvenile justice entry and life-impairing criminal records. Broadly stated, our objectives are to reduce disparities and diminish the school-to-prison pipeline.
The Community Defense Program assists community problem-solving for a variety of legal needs, while featuring free criminal defense representation services for those who cannot afford to pay for an attorney. We also provide advocacy and representation for clients who face barriers relating to criminal records – expungements and challenges to DHS disqualifications. Clients first meet, and cases are selected by, Community Advocates who are well networked with African American, American Indian, and immigrant social service and advocacy organizations. In addition to seeking cases in which injustices appear present, the LRC prioritizes matters most likely to enable a positive transformation for the client.