By Christopher Zoukis King County, Washington is one of the most recent courts in the country to turn to the alternative approach of restorative justice over criminal justice when it comes to dealing with juvenile offenders with no previous criminalRead More
Dianne Walker still recalls the moment she had a revelation about taking action with the criminal justice system. August 13, 2004, Walker concluded a four month ordeal dealing with a false allegation against her. Prior to the incident Walker owned and operated a nail salon in Salida, Colorado. She had no knowledge of how the justice system operates and had never been arrested.
Walker’s eyes were open to what actually happens when an individual is accused of a crime. A plea-bargain was made, Walker was sentenced to two-years probation after coming extremely close to spending time in jail. She was rushed out of the court room and that was that.
The baffling veracity of the criminal justice system became clear to Walker. The truth is not a priority nor are the victim and offender encouraged to interact with each other. The main objective is to ensure the offender is punished and pays by either probation fees or incarceration time.
Walker was bewildered with the entire process and knew she could not merely walk away after experiencing the reality of what goes on within the justice system. In Walker’s mind, the day she gazed at the court document stating her decree, marked the beginning of a life-long quest to advocate for a more authentic way to process cases through the justice system.
Full Circle Restorative Justice was founded in 2006 for the purpose of enhancing the safety of the community by holding offenders accountable, and empowering victims through a supportive conflict resolution process.
The legal system asks: What laws have been broken? Who did it? What do they deserve?
Restorative Justice asks: Who has been hurt? What are their needs? Whose obligations are these?
Restorative justice is a practice that emphasizes repairing the harm caused by crime by bringing victims, offenders, and community members together to reconcile how that will be done. Outcomes from the process can be transformational.
Dr. Howard Zehr, the pioneer of restorative justice in the United States, proclaims, “A restorative justice framework focuses on repairing the harm done to victims and the community through a process of negotiation, mediation, victim empowerment, and reparation. Within this framework, crime and delinquency present a unique opportunity to build relationships and reach an agreement through a collaborative process.”
The process has been utilized with juvenile first time offenders and proven valuable for reducing the rate of reoffending. Recidivism is reduced from 30% using the conventional punitive system down to 8% using restorative practices with youthful offenders.
Restorative justice approaches to minor delinquency or criminal violations have gained popularity in the U.S. and elsewhere since the 1970s and are increasingly employed as responses to serious delinquency or adult criminal behaviors.
The restorative justice process traditionally involves victims and offenders confronting each other in a conference or also referred to as a circle. Both the victim and offender are voluntary participants. A facilitator and co-facilitator along with community members are also present.
The first time Jeanette Holtham, Founder and President of The Youth Transformation Center visited a youth prison she was scared to death.
Holtham is a petite red head with a serene composure, but her aspirations are much larger. She is no longer intimidated by rough looking teens masked with baleful tattoos, multiple piercings, and an array of trinkets hanging from every body part. Holtham knows there are incredible young people hidden behind the masquerading attire.
Holtham is appalled at the 30-50% drop out rate of juveniles ages 12-17 in Colorado, and the 62,000 that are suspended. She is on a mission to salvage the lives of these young people. Holtham is collaborating with Colorado school districts and the Department of Youth Corrections to make this happen.
Holtham is one of the pioneers of a growing global phenomenon called restorative justice, which is a set of principles used to hold offenders accountable for the harm he or she has caused, provide victims with a voice about how the criminal action has affected them, and how the damage should be repaired .
Modern criminal justice systems, according to some critics, alienate victims and remove responsibility from criminal defendants. This gap undermines the justice aspect of criminal justice, and in the long term hurts victims and society. Increasingly, reform-minded advocates have supported restorative justice programs to close this gap and allow individuals to learn from their mistakes.
Restorative justice programs focus on both prisoners and victims. To do this, an array of programs have been developed in cities across the country that employ various strategies to help prisoners see first-hand the impact of their crimes on others. While the methods used to do this are diverse, common themes include support groups for victims, group meetings that unite former prisoners and victims of crime and bringing together individuals serving jail time with their actual victims.
A Victim-Centered Approach
Unfortunately, victims of crime are often ignored in contemporary systems of criminal justice. They are the forgotten other half when a crime is dealt with in society. Restorative justice programs aim to give these victims a voice and an avenue to heal by allowing them to actively participate in the process. This allows victims to feel a higher sense of involvement in their communities, while helping them to recover in a more social and supportive setting.
Outcomes such as these are central reasons for support groups with other victims or joint meetings between victims and those responsible. Allowing victims to confront individuals and let them know the damage they have done is crucial to the healing process, according to proponents of restorative justice programs.
However, these types of programs are not only meant to help victims. In fact, supporters of restorative
While attending a restorative justice conference in 2006, they sat down to eat lunch in the cafeteria at Schreiner University in Kerrville, Texas. A friendly blond woman sat next to them with her tray. She introduced herself as Janine. The group carried on a conversation about restorative justice, which is a principle used most commonly within the justice system that brings victims and offenders together in a circle with a facilitator and other affected members of the community. The main objective of restorative justice is for the offender to be accountable for the harm caused by his/her actions, the victim to express the impact the crime had on them, and to have a voice as to how the harm should be repaired.
Later that day, they attended a presentation within the conference about a unique peace circle that takes place at maximum security prisons. The program brings convicted murderers and family members of murder victims together in a three day process that transforms not only the offenders, but reconciles the pain for the diseased victim’s family members as well.
They were surprised to see the woman they met at lunch earlier facilitating the lecture. Janine Geske, former justice and judge of the Wisconsin Supreme Court and professor at Marquette University Law School was speaking about her experience facilitating peace circles with convicted killers and family members of murdered victims inside prison walls.