By The Hudson Valley Press
KINGSTON – Doors were opened to the public, at the ribbon cutting ceremony Thursday in Midtown Kingston, for the new Ulster County Restorative Justice and Community Empowerment Center.
County Executive Michael Hein was joined by judges, legislators and other members of the community.
The $3.2 million construction project renovated an aging former county DPW storage building, located adjacent to the county probation department offices at 733 Broadway. Previously, the structure was used as a discotheque.
Restorative Justice comes in response to the Raise the Age Law, passed in 2017, which took effect on October 1 of this year. The state legislation eliminates automatic charging of 16-year-olds as adults. Next year it will also include 17-year-olds, Hein noted.
“I know right now, today, there’s a 16-year-old that’s going to make a mistake,” Hein said. “Why? Because they’re 16 years old, and that’s what they do, okay? And instead of starting down a path that in many ways will define their life and ruin their life, we’re going to provide hope.”
“Everybody makes mistakes, and everybody should have an opportunity to change,” explained Kim Mapes, Youth and Family Engagement coordinator for the Center. “They could make a minor mistake, they could make a major mistake, but it shouldn’t hurt them in the long run; they should have an opportunity to turn around.”
Right now, Mapes is the only employee, she said. Online job posting describes the job as case management and advocacy for minors involved in the justice system, at-risk youth, and families. The center official opens for business on January 2.
Adding that the concept of restorative justice helps eliminate the school-to-prison pipeline, Hein said “the goal cannot and should not and will never be, to simply delay a young person’s entrance into the criminal justice system – the goal is to change lives. This isn’t just about generational poverty, it’s about generational opportunity. We acknowledge and react to the reality that some things may have helped cause these situations,” Hein said.
The center plans to utilize other county services, mentoring, higher education and job opportunities, to help break bad patterns and restore young offenders to a more positive future path.