MCHR to explore program

The Maysville Commission on Human Rights approved a measure to pursue a possible restorative justice program and discussed a Fairness Ordinance at a special meeting Thursday.

The approval to continue down the path toward a restorative justice program came after the president of the Kentucky Center for Community and Restorative Justice, Diana Queen, talked to the commission in July.

During that meeting, Queen said community justice pulls in many resources to try to address the causes of conflict and crime. Instead of just addressing punishment, it addresses causes and reconciliation. Community justice has many players including judges, police, social workers, educators and other community members coming together as a group.

According to Queen, restorative justice does more than address the perpetrator and how they should be punished. It addresses how the offense can affect the victim’s family, the offender’s family, and other members of the community.

She went on to say that the process requires the perpetrator to admit to the crime they committed and want to change their ways.

“Dealing with a problem is like peeling back an onion,” Queen said, “which can be painful and difficult.”

For those who participate, however, the root of the problem will be found and restorative justice would seek to help with those problems, whether it be poverty, abuse, drugs, lack of support, etc.

“It was very informative, what she had to discuss,” said Commission Member Jean Black. “Like when our younger people are just in the jail system and when they get out, they fall back into the same pattern because we have nothing here for them. No training sessions, nothing for them to get back into the community and be productive.”

Similar programs have been started in many cities across the commonwealth including Louisville and Covington.

The Center for Community and Restorative Justice would assist the city in creating a program and earning grants to fund it, which would leave a small bill for the city of Maysville, if any at all, officials said.

The program is flexible and the center would work with Maysville to see what is right for the city, Queen said. She said no program is alike – what works for Louisville may not work for Maysville.

Chairman Jack Hussey said he sees education is incredibly important in dealing with justice reform.

“I think the first thing we have to do is educate these young people,” Hussey said. “You can take a lot of things from people, but you can’t take pride and you can’t take education. If we can get those two instilled in them they can go as far as they want -– the sky is the limit.”

Queen said bringing the community together to discuss the matter is a key component to getting a program up and running. Involving the community in discussions and having people willing to volunteer for the program is part of the next step that the commission wants to take.

“My opinion is it takes a village,” said Commissioner Anne Johnson, “And anybody we can bring in to help would not be a bad thing.”

Hussey brought up the need to get businesses involved, and said some may have concerns about hiring someone out of jail or prison.

“I was in business. I was in personnel and hiring,” He said. “When I saw some of those people handling money…would I put some of those people in charge and not be concerned about them handling money when they’ve already stolen from someone?”

A citizen at the meeting said he had been on the other side of the fence and had gotten help.

“Thankful to God there was a program to go through that guided me and directed me toward how to get my life changed,” he said, “For a lot of these people out there, they don’t have no direction. They don’t know how to go about getting their lives straightened out.”

The man went on to say that through guidance and help he found out that he didn’t need to be the person he was.

“Seventeen years ago I never thought I would see myself going to college,” he said, “But here I am today my first semester in the college. People showed me that there was something inside me.”

The man said businesses which would take a chance on these people would be crucial to the process.

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“It couldn’t hurt,” said Johnson, “And it’s free right now. It’s a no brainer.”

The commission also discussed passing a Fairness Ordinance. The Fairness Ordinance would extend equal rights protections to members of the LGBT community.

The ordinance, in essence, would not allow for employers or landlords to discriminate against clients based on the clients’ sexual orientation.

Several cities in Kentucky have passed such ordinances including Louisville, Lexington, Morehead and Midway. The commission is looking at the ordinances passed by these cities as a model for the one it will potentially try to have passed.

“In my opinion, it’s certainly not going to hurt anybody to have fairness for one and all,” said Johnson.

According to Johnson, the current law does not protect against discrimination of LGBT members. It currently protects against discrimination based on race, color, creed, country of origin and religion.

The commission wants to get everything together before they go in front of the City Commission with a proposal to pass the ordinance.

“We’ve got a lot of young people moving in,” Johnson said, “Young people feel differently about sexual orientation.”

She said the commission needs to research three things in regards to the ordinance -– why it’s necessary, how it will work and be enforced, and what impact it will have.

Hussey said being non-discriminative is a big plus when companies look around the area for a place to open businesses and factories.

The commission will continue to discuss both matters. Queen has been invited back to continue talks with the commission. Its next meeting will be held on Sept. 21.

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