by Karima Amin

For the last several months, you may have been hearing about the “Open Buffalo” initiative that was announced in January in the Buffalo News and announced at a press conference, sponsored by the Partnership for the Public Good, at the Frank E. Merriweather, Jr. Library. It was reported that the Open Society Foundation has awarded a two-year, $1.9 million grant, to four local non-profits, to “combat economic injustice and inequality in Buffalo.” These four non-profits, PUSH-Buffalo, the Coalition for Economic Justice, VOICE-Buffalo, and the Partnership for the Public Good, have each selected “partners,” 13 in number, who will collaborate to improve life in Buffalo, a city overwhelmed by racism and poverty. Prisoners Are People Too, Inc. is honored to be one of the chosen “partners” and we will be moving forward with our effort to improve conditions at the Erie County Holding Center and the Erie County Correctional Facility by introducing and implementing Restorative Justice Practices with an eye toward healing victims, their families, and the community-at-large while encouraging offenders to take responsibility.

To understand that something old is new in Buffalo, you need some background about “restorative justice.” What is it? If you ask five people, you may get five different answers. “Restorative justice is a theory of justice that emphasizes repairing the harm caused or revealed by criminal behavior or an offensive act. It is best accomplished through cooperative practices that include all stakeholders… victims, offenders, family and community members.” Justice requires that we work to restore those who have been injured. Those most directly involved and affected by an offense should have the opportunity to participate in the response. Repairing the harm is at the center of Restorative Justice, which is an umbrella term encompassing several different practices, among them: victim-offender mediation, group conferencing, conflict resolution, peacemaking circles and more. Restorative Justice is thousands of years old but new to Buffalo.

At the next monthly meeting of Prisoners Are People Too, Inc., three guest speakers will share information about restorative justice. Our Program Director, George BaBa Eng, a proponent of restorative justice for several years, received specialized training from Rev. Robert Spicer (RJ Trainer and Facilitator from Chicago) and advanced training from the International Institute for Restorative Practices. BaBa has written several scholarly essays on the topic and he will share historical information about the roots of RJ and our desire to bring restorative practices to the Erie County Holding Center.

Restorative Justice is thousands of years old but new to Buffalo. Pastor James Giles, Executive Director of Back to Basics Outreach Ministries and vice-president of VOICE-Buffalo, will speak about the various ways that the community can benefit with restorative justice impacting our quality of life. Mr. Andy Prinzing learned about restorative justice when he lived in Ithaca and worked as an instructional supervisor at the National Dropout Prevention Center at Clemson University. He came to Buffalo in 2011 and became the assistant principal of the Buffalo Community Charter School where he saw how certain restorative principles could increase attendance and reduce suspensions.

Our next meeting will be on Monday, July 28, 2014 from 7:00 to 9:00 pm at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo. This meeting is sponsored by the Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng. For more information: 716-834-8438; karima@prisonersarepeopletoo.org; g.babaeng@yahoo.com.

“God has not called us to see through each other, but to see each other through.” (Anonymous)

Karima Amin is a longtime Buffalo Activist, Educator, and Storyteller as well as founder and director of Prisoners Are People Too (PRP2).