By Forrest Lee Jones
American schools and criminal justice systems are using Restorative Justice (RJ) more and more as a remedy to keep people from going to prison, reports Rebecca Beitsch of Pew Charitable Trusts.
Restorative Justice is a practice that originated in ancient cultures. Schools and courts are using it as an alternative to punishment. It’s designed to make offenders accountable for their crimes and bring healing to those they victimize, the July 20 report stated.
Boulder, Colorado, District Attorney Stan Garnett used RJ in lieu of prosecuting two teens who stole a $600 power saw from a McGuckin Hardware store. One teen agreed to Restorative Justice; the other decided to fight the charges, reported Beitsch.
The cooperating teen sat in a meeting with his parents and an employee from the hardware store, along with a facilitator, and discussed the teen’s crime and its impact. The meeting resulted in a plan for the teen to make amends by getting good grades, meeting weekly with a counselor, and paying restitution for his part of the stolen saw.
“The whole encounter was very positive for him,” said Garnett “He felt bad. He met with people from McGuckin. He moved on. He didn’t spend time in prison, and he didn’t spend time meeting other kids always coming in and out of the system.
“The other kid whose parents hired the lawyer for him, it took months to get it adjudicated,” Garnett said. “They spend all this time filing motions and arguing whether we violated the Fourth Amendment by searching the backpack instead of thinking, ‘Should I have stolen a power saw?’”
RJ is being used in many parts of the country, before and after prison— even in places like San Quentin State Prison. It is having a major effect on inmates’ lives.
“RJ has given me a different outlook on crime and punishment. It has taught me how to make healing and reparations to my victims,” said San Quentin inmate M. Krauter, serving 15 years-to-life for second-degree murder. “It has given me a different and better perspective on justice. It allows the offenders to retain their humanity in the eyes of society.”
Another RJ student is Joe Hancock, serving 39 years for second-degree murder and assault with a firearm.
“I have learned the ripple effect that my crime has had on others through RJ; it created a great deal of depression and economic impact on my victim and first responders. It’s created a lot of fear in my neighbors, community and family. RJ has helped me connect emotionally with remorse and the choices I made to murder someone. This is important, because I now realize I must have an appreciation for the lives of others, as well as empathy. It’s opened up my responsibility to be accountable.”
Restorative Justice is replacing punishment in states that are working to reduce mass incarceration. West Virginia provided RJ funding for the juvenile justice system last year. Vermont and Colorado enacted laws creating governmental bodies to oversee and provide RJ services.