Juvenile Justice

Restorative Justice in Action…and Poetry Healing Trauma in Watts


Part one of two-part series from Brave New Films explores Centinela Youth Services’ restorative justice program, which uses victim-offender mediation, therapy, and education services to reduce recidivism among Los Angeles’ juvenile offenders and to keep kids in their communities and out of lock-up.

Kids and teens who are locked up in juvenile halls and camps are 60% more likely to reoffend. Kids who participate in CYS’ program have a much lower recidivism rate—between 8%-11%—than their locked-up peers (around 30%).

Watch the mini documentary above.

In February, Jeremy Loudenback reported for WitnessLA about CYS and its unique juvenile diversion program.


At College Bridge Academy, a Watts charter school for kids who struggled in—or dropped out of—traditional schools, a spoken word poetry team is practicing for a competition between 50 schools called the Get Lit Classic Slam.

Over 10 years, 50,000 kids have gone through the Get Lit program. At College Bridge Academy, the program has been expanded into a full-fledged class, and uses poetry to boost literacy and help kids—many of whom have been involved in the foster care system, been abused, or witnessed violence in their community—process trauma.

KPCC’s Priska Neely has more on the program. Here’s a clip:

…in Watts, a neighborhood still struggling to recover from riots more than 50 years ago, Valles says kids have the chance to be modern-day griots, storytellers in their communities.

“A lot of our kids, they get sent the message that they’re not valuable or their voices don’t matter,” Valles said. “And a venue like this that tells you, ‘Hey what do you think? What’s your story?’

“Like for a while there’s almost this disbelief.”

Get Lit has 75 schools – mostly in Southern California – that use their curriculum. Most of the time English and drama teachers incorporate it into their classes with occasional lessons or units. Teams have practice after school.

But at College Bridge, Valles has expanded it into a semester-long class of its own – it’s all about analyzing poetry, hip hop and spoken word and writing new work.

She’s been teaching it for more than three years and said that for many students it’s been transformative.

“They realize that their story is something that needs to be shared, that needs to be said out loud, and that, once they say that story out loud, truly changes not only them but the audience,” Valles said.

Valles says she can usually put her poets in two categories: Students like Winston, who feel passionate about writing to uplift and inspire others, and those who use poetry as a way to process trauma.

Sophomore Elvira Rodriguez, 15, is in that latter category. The classic poem she’s reciting is “Royal Heart” by Andrea Gibson.

Her original response is a deeply personal poem. In it, she’s making a tragic confession to her boyfriend:

Afraid that you couldn’t understand it
Afraid that I couldn’t stand it
The memory of my own brother molesting me
You see, I can’t be in my body all the time
Feeling everyone’s eyes on me
Feeling the heaviness on my shoulders
Feeling the waves of sadness starting to destroy me

The abuse she writes about happened ten years ago. But she didn’t tell anyone until this school year.

“Instead of holding it in and being depressed all the time,” Rodriguez said. “I decided to just put it in my poem and finally said it out loud.”

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