• Community Uplift Partnership Executive Director Maria Borrego.

The subject of restorative justice took a chunk of the center stage during 17th Judicial District Attorney Brian Mason’s “Coffee with the DA” discussion at Reunion Coffee House in Commerce City on Jan. 26. 

“One of the things we do is keep people out of the criminal justice system,” Mason said. “For some, their crimes don’t apply. But for lower-level crimes, for those who feel a sense of desperation, we can send people to an intensive, two-year program.”

Within three years of completing the program, Mason said 97 percent of those graduates do not return to the criminal justice system. 

One piece of that effort is the Community Uplift Partnership program at the coffee house.

The program targets 15- to 24-year-olds. The CUP website said the age group “makes big decisions that impact the course of their lives” and “can be involved with high-risk behavior susceptible to criminal offenses.” 

The restorative piece helps those just out of jail find work or housing. 

“We want them to be successful,” Mason said. “When they leave the system, they don’t have jobs. That makes it hard. People can serve their time, but they can’t get jobs or housing. We want to focus on talking about housing. We want to give people someplace to go and not get in trouble.” 

“You’ll see kids here at 3:00 every afternoon,” said CUP Executive Director Maria Borrego. “They need a healthy place where people will support them.”

Those who get into the CUP program start by attending a 12-week course that includes lunch and skill development, such as leadership training, practical life skills and character development. Then CUP helps them find jobs so they can move up to the next best job suitable for the participant. 

Among other things, CUP’s website says it’s looking for people who aren’t in school and who are “overwhelmed to find their first job.” 

Borrego and her husband come from such an environment. She was a parent at age 23. Most male members of her husband’s family were in gangs. Her husband eventually earned his GED. 

“I came from an immigrant home,” Borrego said. “We did this through our church (Land Place Church in Commerce City). Some say we can’t relate to them. I don’t know any new ways to get through to young kids.” 

But she does know a standard way to get through to just about anyone. 

“We’re thinking about new technology. But human connection? It’s no different than it was when I was a kid,” she said. “There’s no technology involved with human connection.”