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Supporting Victims of Crime and Lowering Offender Recidivism

Published in the Colorado Central Magazine

Supporting Victims of Crime and Lowering Offender Recidivism
By Patty LaTaille

August 10, 2011 was an historic day for Restorative Justice in the state of Colorado. Restorative Justice House Bill 11-1032 went into effect, having been signed by Governor Hickenlooper earlier in July.

This law requires that victims of crimes be informed of their right to use restorative processes, allowing for victim-initiated restorative justice only. Restorative Justice involves a fostering of dialogue betwfaction, true accountability by the oeen the offender and the victim, and has shown the highest rates of victim satisffender, and reduced recidivism.

Restorative Justice (RJ) is based on a theory of justice and a global social change movement that endorses peaceful responses to harm, problem-solving and violations of legal and human rights. Full Circle Restorative Justice (FCRJ), working in the 11th Judicial District (Chaffee, Custer, Fremont and Park Counties), addresses the harm caused by crime, and provides opportunities for victim empowerment and restitution, while supporting offender accountability and integration back into the community.

In the American justice system, victims are disempowered – they generally have little or no say in our legal system. The voice of the victims is represented by District Attorneys as representatives of “The State.” It is a newsworthy event when a victim is granted permission by a judge to directly address an offender.

In Restorative Justice programs, the focus is on crime and wrongdoing as acted against the individual or community rather than the State. RJ processes emphasize repairing harm caused or revealed by criminal behavior. This focus on the needs of victims and offenders forges powerful connections and individual transformations, which speeds healing. The standard focus on satisfying the abstract principles of law or the need of the community to exact punishment does not address victim or offender needs. Through RJ, the person who has done harm (offender), and the person who has been harmed (victim) take active roles.

In The Little Book of Restorative Justice by author Howard Zehr (widely recognized as a major restorative justice pioneer and the “godfather of restorative justice”), Zehr describes RJ as a paradigm shift that is best understood by asking the oft-quoted “three questions.”

The more common three questions for a system of justice to ask are:

1. What laws have been broken?
2. Who did it?
3. What do they deserve?

Restorative Justice asks:

1. Who has been hurt?
2. What are their needs?
3. Whose obligations are these?”

The Full Circle Restorative Justice Board of Directors includes residents of Chaffee and Fremont counties dedicated to the promotion of restorative justice as a way to support victims of crime, prevent offender recidivism and to build community. Trained volunteer facilitators value victims’ rights and support their journey to justice. Restorative Justice gives victims a voice in the legal process, helping them to express their experience to offenders, enabling those who harmed them (or their loved ones) to understand the impact of their actions through Victim-Offender Conferences. Full Circle volunteer facilitators are trained in Compassionate Communication and facilitating a restorative circle with respect and empathy.

The victim is offered the opportunity for a conference, generally through the District Attorney or a school principal, and is welcome to bring family members and friends as support. While the idea of meeting the individual that has harmed them may seem intimidating at first to victims, it gives them an opportunity to confront the offender (who is thoroughly screened prior to the restorative circle so that the chance of re-victimization is practically non-existent). Victims are encouraged to speak freely – surrounded by caring community members – and to define justice on their terms – with input on what it will take to repair the harm, such as how many hours of community service, the amount of restitution and perhaps a letter of apology.

A written agreement/contract is prepared, which takes into account the victim’s input and requests and focuses on repairing the harm that was done — with the offender agreeing to restitution, community service, and other sanctions. That contract is then filed with the court or school system. Offenders fulfill their mutually-agreed upon contracts or return to the D.A.’s Office or the principal.

Restorative Justice has the unique power to transform lives, help victims heal, reduce recidivism and the high cost of crime and incarceration. The benefits of Restorative Justice include giving victims a voice in the justice process, enabling offenders to understand the impact of their actions on a victim as well as the community, and providing opportunities for offenders to repair the harm and help ensure positive future choices.

The volunteers and staff at Full Circle understand that the concept of Restorative Justice – moving from retribution/punishment to restoration/repair in response to harm – is a paradigm shift. To learn more, please contact FCRJ at fullcirclerj@gmail.com or call 719-221-3069

Because justice does not always mean punishment

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