Restoring Justice and Reimaging Research: Building Community to Disrupt the Cycle of Violence and Enhance Research-Practice Partnerships

This grant will support a partnership between the University of Texas at Austin, the Travis County District Attorney’s Office, the Excellence and Advancement Foundation, the Amala Foundation, and Youth Rise Texas to divert young people from the system and promote healing for young people and their families through restorative justice practices.

The partners will evaluate the effectiveness of a trauma-informed restorative justice program in diverting youth, particularly Black and Latinx youth, from the juvenile justice system in Travis County, Texas. Over the course of two years, sixty youth facing charges for domestic violence and/or a non-violent crime will be diverted to the program, which is anchored in the expertise of three community partner organizations. The Amala Foundation and Youth Rise Texas will facilitate trauma-informed restorative justice practices for healing and harm reduction. The Excellence and Advancement Foundation will use place-based resources; access to and information about opportunities for education, employment, and health; and peer and professional support to help young people effectively navigate their path away from justice involvement. A key component of the coordinated program is an emphasis on cultural competency and racial equity, as well as engagement with youth outreach and community-based work. The research partners will work with the District Attorney’s office and the three community organizations to co-design the evaluation of the program. They will use administrative data from the District Attorney’s office and Texas Education Research Center, along with observations, interviews, and surveys, to examine the program’s effectiveness in reducing recidivism and improving mental and physical wellness, perceptions of safety and exposure to violence, and family well-being. The District Attorney’s office and community partners will use study findings to understand and improve service delivery, seek additional funding, and eventually bring the program to scale. The locus of institutional change at the University of Texas at Austin will be the newly launched Initiative for Law, Societies, and Justice, which Pettit will lead. This university-wide initiative was created by the Vice President for Research and Deans from the Colleges of Liberal Arts, Law, Public Affairs, Social Work, and Education. Pettit will leverage the Institutional Challenge Grant to elevate the work of the initiative, which is tasked with advancing community-engaged research and its value in university hiring and tenure and promotion decisions across colleges, schools, and units, as well as evaluating and refreshing memoranda of understanding with institutional partners working in violence prevention or harm reduction.

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