FNA Youth summit

Judge Jeff May talks to those attending the Fairbanks Native Association Youth Summit about restorative justice in Alaska.

Fairbanks Native Association hosted a summit on Tuesday afternoon with various organizations convening to examine youth programs in the state.

“So the Youth Summit was put together in hopes to bring different local organizations, even as far as from Anchorage to come up, and to really talk on what there is out there for the youth and the young adults as far as services and any programs that could be helpful to them,” said Amanda Fontana, Synergy and Strategic Prevention Framework manager with Fairbanks Native Association.

This is the second year the Fairbanks Native Association Youth Summit has been held.

There’s a variety of groups that attended this time according to Caroline Ramos, program director of Youth and Young Adult Services with FNA. Ramos said that Fairbanks is large, but also kind of small, and there are a lot of different services that didn’t used to collaborate that much.

“I think last year kind of helped with that and we’re in hopes that each year we’re able to continue doing this just so that we can collaborate as a community and just be for the kiddos,” Ramos said.

Fontana said the groups can achieve greatness working together and being unified.

At the front of the room, Judge Jeff May was one of the day’s speakers from the Alaska Court System. He talked about restorative justice within the state.

“We really have seen, particularly I would say in the last decade, an increased push towards trying to develop multiple alternative ways or other ways of resolving conflict or addressing things that come to the court system,” May said, “and the shift in the momentum, it’s not necessarily new. It’s been around quite some time.”

Mediation and group counseling in civil cases, as well as the build up of therapeutic courts were all examples May gave of restorative justice.

“The idea is, it’s to take it away from being such an adversarial process and if possible to try to construct that process where the parties, where those involved are working together to try to develop resolutions together that will last into the future,” May said, “and we’re even seeing more of a push to try to actually bring that into the criminal setting, both in the adult and the juvenile setting.”

He noted there is room for implementing the system into both settings. Restorative justice is more a philosophy than an individual program, according to May.

May gave a few examples of restorative justice, including one from his own life wherein a family was given the opportunity to connect with a young man who killed one of their family members in a drunken driving accident. At the sentencing the family gave a statement talking about the process and telling the judge they’d hate to lose another life, according to May.

“Now I am confident that what had happened influenced ultimately what sentence was given,” he said, “but more important to me was the ability for this family to move forward in a healthier way from this event and for that younger person to be able to move forward, hopefully in a positive way because if they wouldn’t have been given that opportunity to have that conversation, I am certain the outcome of their lives would have been very different.

“So when we ask the question, what is restorative justice, again I don’t know, I struggle to define it as well,” May continued, “but when I look at those two experiences that I was part of, I can actually see that there were unique things about both experiences that I think allow for greater growth and really allow for restoration.”

May noted in his presentation that the key goals of restorative justice are to identify harm crime has caused victim and others, help the offender understand that harm and meet their obligation to repair it in a way that reintegrates the offender in stable relationships, and build the community through involvement in the process.

Along the right wall of the Westmark Hotel Gold Room, Tanana Chiefs Conference, The Door and Fairbanks Native Association were just a few of the booths set up, sharing information and resources.

Sean Williams, Visions Project manager with FNA, brought with him an informational resource kiosk, which is currently being updated, but is usually available at the library and the courthouse to point people towards community resources like places to get food and housing support. Visions is the program within FNA’s Behavioral Health Services that connects at risk youth with services to address substance abuse and mental health issues.

“I think the turnout was great and the people I got to speak with were very, very informational and just a pleasure to talk to,” he said. “I’m glad that we have so many people in the community able to come together and see that there’s a problem that needs to be fixed.”

Williams added that Visions and FNA are really striving to get young individuals to be successful members of society and are working to get with them and address the issues they have. The biggest problem he said he thinks they have is changing the way of thinking around holding on to feelings without talking about them.

“I think that if we can get individuals, older people and everybody talking about suicide and mental health issues, then we definitely would see an increase in survivability in young people here,” Williams said.

Contact staff writer Kyrie Long at 459-7510. Follow her on Twitter at: twitter.com/FDNMlocal.