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Cities across the United States and around the world have had an increase in violence during the past 2 years. Jackson is not immune to this horrible disease. We have all been directly or indirectly harmed by the violence that has taken place in our beloved city. It is truly the other Public Health crisis, an epidemic. In every City Council Meeting since October 12, 2021, crime and increasing violence has been brought up, whether by Council Members, the Mayor, or concerned citizens, who most often are the victims of these senseless acts of violence. Through our organization’s collective work, guided by our mission of making Jackson a city where all community members live safely and thrive, we have heard, as you all have, Jackson citizens crying out for help to be delivered from the harm and devastation that violence has caused our community.
A huge point of consensus is that we ask police to do too much. Police cannot be mental health providers, domestic violence negotiators, conflict resolution facilitators, all while attending to crimes that have been committed, solving cases & beefing up policing and security measures in an effort to deter more crime from being committed. The consequences are too great. These are terrible for the police and community. These are expectations that no person or persons or department for that matter can handle alone. If police are telling us they cannot do these things, we need to listen. They are telling us they need the community. So now is time to listen and invest in communities, instead of making police jobs impossible. The only way we are going to be truly safe is if the community is allowed to help police by making our rightful contribution to ending violence. We must build community capacity to prevent and address violence. We propose that one immediate step the City can take is through dedicated funding to community-based organizations for victims’ services and violence prevention. We have vetted national models of community-based services and even piloted some of these models in Jackson to show how they can be used in our hometown.
We know community involvement is the answer to violence because we see it working firsthand. In October of 2020, we launched the Strong Arms Credible Messenger Program. The program provides individualized and developmentally-appropriate support to young people (ages 14-26) who would otherwise face jail or prison as the result of a felony or misdemeanor charge. The program receives referrals directly from the Henley Young Youth Justice Court. Strong Arms program staff work as a team to deliver coordinated services addressing each young person’s unique needs and goals, including relating to: mental health, substance use, education, employment, and family works. All staff are trained in trauma informed care by expert clinical directors.
Here are the results from the program’s first year:
- 36 youth were referred to Strong Arms by Henley Young Youth Justice Court for community based mentoring, youth leadership development and wrap around services support.
- 10 of those youth completed an intake and assessment and were enrolled in the Strong Arms program.
- 70% of youth completed the program.
- 0 were re-incarcerated.
- 26 detained youth were served through the Strong Arms Mentoring Program
- 46% of those youth completed the 10-week Strong Arms youth leadership Covenant of Peace Program.
Recognizing that it takes more than one approach to prevent violence. Community members also invested in the Cure Violence Model, by supporting the development of the Operation Good Cure Violence Program. The Operation Good Cure Violence program is a unique model that aims to stop the spread of violence by using the methods and strategies associated with disease control – detecting and interrupting conflicts, identifying and treating the high-risk individuals, and changing social/community norms resulting in reductions in violence of up to 70%.
In its inaugural year the Operation Good Cure Violence program:
- Hired and trained 6 violence interrupters in the mediation and de-escalation Cure Violence Global curriculum.
- Engaged in door to door and block to block canvassing of the zone for 9 months daily during evening and late night hours.
- Held a summer youth sports program and Community Unity Day in partnership with the Oakforest Community Center.
- Provided monthly food/grocery support to families in need.
- Served, partially employed, or mentored over 27 participants.
- Mediated, interrupted or prevented 57 incidents.
- Had a total of 213 days of no gun violence in the 45 block zone.
Another Model that Works
The Common Justice healing model places emphasis on the healing of the victim (individuals personally harmed as well as family/community that have been impacted by the harm). This restorative justice model is centered around victims’ services while also holding those that committed the harm accountable, providing support and resources to victims enabling them and the community most impacted by the violence to heal and remain safe.
Common Justice offers survivors the opportunity to have their needs validated and addressed, to participate in shaping the consequences for the harm they survived, to co-create and carry out a wraparound service plan, and to develop strategies to cope with and come through the trauma they experienced. The Common Justice-modeled Jackson program could begin to immediately respond to victims’ needs by hiring:
- Healing Services Director
- 2 Victims’ Services Support/Outreach Specialists
The Healing Services Director will build the infrastructure for wrap-around services for victims by planning and implementing key elements of the Common Justice evidence based model, working closely with community organizations already providing violence prevention services in the form of mental health services, child & youth education & programming, housing, shelters, feeding programs, health services & addiction specialists.
The Victims’ Services Support/Outreach Specialists will provide:
- one-on-one case management,
- restorative group counseling sessions, and
- referrals for additional services including but not limited to financial assistance.
The program support will provide:
- survivor-centered responses to violence: ensuring victims’/survivors’ needs are tended to fully and in every part of the process
- accountability-based responses to violence: ensuring those responsible for harm are held meaningfully accountable to acknowledge the impact of their actions and to make things as right as possible with those impacted by their wrongdoing
- safety-driven responses to violence: ensuring those who have caused harm do not hurt others and that communities experience the safety they deserve. Restorative justice also includes working with the people responsible for harm.
The Healing Services Director will have a key role in ensuring that the development of a full restorative justice model, including fostering partnerships with key system actors, is always centered on the needs of victims of violence. While we are requesting the City Council’s support for our work with victims today, we are also currently seeking additional funding from other sources to support our work with those who commit the violence we are working to heal and prevent.
We humbly request that the City Council invest in these proven models by designating America Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to create a Common Justice-modeled Healing Services Program and expanding the Operation Good Cure Violence program and Strong Arms Credible Messenger program. The People’s Advocacy Institute nor the JXN People’s Assembly request these funds. We are requesting the City, through an Office of Public Safety/Violence Prevention, begin a Common Justice -modeled Healing Services Program and set aside funding, allowing community organizations to apply for funding to implement these & other proven, evidence based violence intervention models.
We propose that the City designates $700,000 over two years to pilot the Common Justice program and expand the Operation Good and Strong Arms programs. Through a public-private funding partnership – using America Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds coupled with matching funds raised through the collective efforts of the Mississippi Criminal Justice Funders Collaborative, the Common Justice national consultants, and the People’s Advocacy Institute, we are asking for a 2-year commitment from the City, with $200,000 for the 1st year and $500,000 for the 2nd year. Within the first year of funding, the City can begin immediately offering support to victims of violence. We must start this process by addressing the trauma that has impacted our communities so that we can prevent additional harm and help our residents heal.