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Restorative justice is here to stay

The Mountain Mail - May 1, 2017
by Molly R. Leach

Most would agree that our youth are our future. In addition, I’m guessing few would disagree that our relationships as individuals, families, schools and communities are the glue of potential.

Conflict and crime are a part of life that we often shun. We have been stuck in the idea that punishment and incarceration is the only way to do justice. But it is costing us – literally and figuratively – and causing a breakdown of immense proportions in communities nationwide.

Here in our valley and county, we have a key program that is actively addressing conflict and crime with astoundingly positive results: Full Circle Restorative Justice.

What is restorative justice?

“RJ” is nothing new. Instead of asking who did it and how can we punish them, it asks what the harm done was, who was responsible and who was impacted and how we make it right. To express the impact of others’ actions and to have those who’ve impacted us face us honestly and see/understand that impact.

This is not small beans. Critics of restorative justice likely have never seen it in action and are unaware of its success. Their major gripes include that it is soft on crime, or that it is a lovey-feely-touchy feelings jamboree, or it does not honor the victim.

The truth is, restorative justice is tougher than going through our punitive system, because it requires honesty and facing the people we’ve hurt. It requires community commitment to accountability and to honoring victims’ needs more fully than if they are in the traditional system, which from the outset is an “us versus them” adversarial form of justice with an immense pricetag.

Let me be clear. I’m not saying there is no need for jails and prisons. I’m not saying we should toss out our system or it doesn’t have positive aspects. I’m saying we have a proven way – right in our valley – to prevent our youth from the cycle of incarceration that statistics show is neverending for many “juveniles.”

I’m saying that evidence even here in our state shows that police officers, district attorneys, judges, school officials and community members are seeing the direct and positive effects of the restorative justice process and are working diligently with one another and official RJ organizations like FCRJ to further solidify its long-term place in addressing conflict and crime, and using it more and more as a successful avenue for many of our youth.

Stanley Garnett, district attorney in Boulder County, says, “Restorative justice saves time, money and makes sense.” He is an advocate of the flourishing programs our state has up north and has been an active voice serving the state Restorative Justice Council (rjcolorado.org).

The data tracking done once a referral comes in for restorative justice, all the way to completion of the contract agreement the offender is responsible for completing to repair harm, shows a 90 percent satisfaction rate with the process for all involved, and recidivism (re-offense) rates drop stunningly.

For example, in Longmont’s programs we see a rate under 10 percent, compared to the average nationally of 70 percent or above. The cost of incarceration varies anywhere from $22,000 annually per individual to over $100,000 for medical cases.

From a keynote speech at the 2013 National Conference on Restorative Justice, Rep. Pete Lee said, “Our costs for incarceration are escalating and unsustainable. In Colorado, we spend $33,000 to keep one person in prison for one year while we spend about $6,000 a year to educate each student in kindergarten through high school.”

These comparative expenditures raise an important question. What kind of society spends more on cages than classrooms?

The choice is ours. When conflict inevitably happens, we can call for restorative justice. We can also choose to bring FCRJ in for “upstream” of conflict trainings that support students and adults alike in growing their base of skills in areas that prevent conflict and empower all of us.

The future is in our hands. The fate of our youth and our communities is calling from the future to us to make our mark. Restorative justice is here to stay.

To contact Full Circle Restorative Justice to request more information, please phone 530-5597 or email fullcirclerj@gmail.com.

Or, visit the website for a full download of info on all programs and accomplishments at fullcirclerj.net.

Molly R. Leach has been a social justice advocate for decades. She lives in Salida and is a writer, certified restorative justice facilitator, syndicated journalist, soccer coach, outdoors enthusiast and most importantly, she said, mother to David.

Because justice does not always mean punishment

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