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GIVING BACK

Tierra Merritt, 2016 recipient of the Audrey J. Harris Summer Internship Award, interned with the Dane County TimeBank Youth Court and the Dane County Community Restorative Court.

Majors: Psychology, Legal Studies

Minors: Criminal Justice, Education

When I first arrived in Madison from Chicago for my freshman year, I did not anticipate that I would have two majors and two minors. I also did not know that I would grow to love working in the criminal justice system.

This past summer I was an intern for the Dane County TimeBank Youth Court and the Dane County Community Restorative Court. These programs focus on the concept of Restorative Justice, an alternative to the traditional court system. Restorative Justice focuses on repairing harm as well as building relationships between the offender, the victim, and community. Restorative Justice is the opposite of the tough on crime approach - an approach that has been shown to be unsuccessful in American history.

At the TimeBank I worked with 12-16 year olds who received various tickets, such as retail theft, disorderly conduct, or truancy. Here, a Youth Court is conducted where peer jurors ask the respondent questions as to why they committed the offense, as well as what is going on with their lives and what are their interests. The respondents are given an agreement that must be completed within 60 days. If they complete it, the ticket goes away and so does the charge.

At the Community Restorative Court, it is a little similar. Here I worked with 17-25 year olds with misdemeanor offenses. I, along with peacemakers - which are community members who are trained to facilitate discussions - conduct what is called a circle.  In the circle, questions are asked, similar to what is asked at TimeBank. The respondents are given 90 days to complete their agreement.

These programs are incredibly important to me! They tackle two of the most important issues in our criminal justice system: mass incarceration in America, as well as the school to prison pipeline. I am so grateful to have been an intern at these programs and without the Audrey J. Harris Summer Intern Award, I would not have been able to complete this amazing opportunity. I am forever grateful to the Harris family for their generosity. I want to thank them for giving me the chance to work in the criminal justice system and where I feel like I make a difference.