A Promising Alternative
Prisons are growing at an alarming rate with mandatory releases becoming daily routine. Juveniles who are detained for criminal behavior are up to five times more likely to be detained as an adult for future criminal behavior. Common sense says that we need a new approach to crime and justice. Restorative Justice attempts to bring people together to find solutions rather than separating them and hoping that the problems will go away.
Basis of Program:
It is a circle process designed to bring together victim, offender, and community after a crime occurs in order to identify the harm that has resulted and to create a system for repair. Offenders begin by sharing their story then victims and community members identify the ways they have been affected. Assets of the offender are gathered and shared. All contribute to the formation of a contract with items that will help the offender repair the harm that he/she caused.
Juveniles and adults are considered for petty, misdemeanor, and felony offenses. Exceptions are felony offenses of a violent nature or any level of sex crime. Adults are considered for petty and misdemeanor offenses only. The program may be utilized as an alternative to court, a condition of court sentencing, or as an element of probation. Offenders must take responsibility for their crimes in order to be considered—meaning they must admit guilt.
These may include: Victim, Offender, Support for Victim, Support for Offender, Affected and Un-affected Community Members, Victim Advocate, Arresting Officer, Former Offenders, Teacher, Coach, Boss, Relatives, Friends, Mentor, Pastor, and Community Members with Similar Demographics or Interests.
Duration of Process:
Initially, volunteer facilitators meet separately with victims and offenders for a few hours each. The conference, with all participants, takes place at one time and usually lasts 2-4 hours. A contract is created with up to five “to do” items for the offender and is monitored by staff. Upon completion or termination, the group re-convenes for a post-conference to celebrate successes or question failures to complete contract items.
The goal is for the offender to avoid further involvement in the criminal justice system. Victim voices are heard and they are given input in the contract. The offender is held accountable and must take direct responsibility. A contract is produced with a maximum of five items. If all are completed, there is no criminal entry on the record of the offender.