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?
Full Circle Restorative Justice started by holding monthly meetings with concerned community members and stake holders, who were interested in forming a grass roots program in Chaffee County. The ironic parody of Walker’s marketing scheme is in order to launch Full Circle she had to collaborate with some of the prosecuting officials connected to her case, but it didn’t take long to get them on board.
A Full Circle board was established and volunteer facilitators were trained by statewide restorative justice director/educators. The FCRJ board hosted a luncheon for restorative justice stake-holders. The district attorneys’ office, probation department, police department, and public defender’s office were among the attendees that gathered in the community center for an extended lunch hour. The event included restorative justice speakers, a power-point presentation, and individual group role-play sessions. The guests enjoyed a unique afternoon learning about the history and principles of restorative justice.
Once FCRJ obtained 501 (c) 3 tax-exemption, the organization began receiving referrals from Juvenile Diversion, the District Attorney’s Office, and the Probation Department. Walker’s probation fees were beginning to flow “full circle” when she received reimbursement checks from the probation department for her services as a restorative justice coordinator.
FCRJ facilitates property violation crimes. The population the organization serves is juveniles, and young adults, ages 10-24 years-old. The first referral involved 17 and 18-year-old males who vandalized neighborhood vehicles and stole electronic equipment and CDs.
How the program works:
Victims whose cars were vandalized were contacted. The vehicle vandalism and theft case had more than a dozen victims. The restorative justice process was explained to the injured parties. Each individual had the option to participate in the practice or decline.
The victims who opted to participate in the restorative justice process were mailed welcome letters informing them of the date, time and location of the conference, informed that the process would give them an opportunity to make a clear statement of how he or she had been affected as a respected community member by the events that took place, and provided them with an opportunity to work out a contract with the defendant, which would be helpful in repairing some of the harm that had been caused.
Offender’s participation in the restorative justice process is also voluntary. Offender(s) who are willing to participate in the process are provided an application form. He or she is informed that this is an opportunity to work things out with the person or persons you have harmed by your actions and/or members of your community who have been affected by what has been done. Offender(s) are asked to explain what he or she did using specific details, how this caused a problem for them and others, explain what motivated them to commit the crime, who the victim(s) are and their relationship with them, what their actions cost their victim(s), family, friends, and community and how they were affected, how he or she would feel if this was done to them or a member of their family, what has happened to them because of the situation, what their biggest issues and concerns are at this time, what they think should happen to make things right, and any other information they think should be revealed. Offenders are also required to fill-out a development assets survey.
A preconference is held with the victim(s) and offender(s) separately to assess what each party wants to achieve from the restorative conference or “circle.”
All participants in the restorative conference or “circle” are voluntary and consist of a facilitator, co-facilitator, victim(s), an offender, (offenders participate separately), offender’s support person, such as a parent or teacher, minister, etc., and community member(s), (community(s) members can consist of a police officer, school principal or teacher, mayor or city council member, etc.
The purpose of the conference or “circle is to respectfully address the harm done, encourage offenders to take responsibility, and “make it right” to the greatest extent possible. Responsibility is taken when each person acknowledges the harm that has been experienced and chooses to be accountable for his or her role in creating that harm because it increases understanding and empathy.
The victims are supported in getting answers to their questions about the crime and the offender; which allows the offender to learn about the impact of the crime on the victim, his/her family and the community.
A contract is reached for restitution or other pro-social action, which is agreed upon by all members present. The advantage of this process is it provides the offender with a meaningful way of repaying the victim(s) and the community for the damage. If the contract is fulfilled the offender(s) can avoid the criminal justice court system.
Offenders facing their victims and hearing how their actions impacted their victim(s) has a positive effect because victims get to have a voice in the matter and offenders have an indemnity to relate to their victims.
Reintegration occurs once repair is complete. When people forgive and put wrongdoing and alienation behind them, they move forward in relationship with each other and the community.
Walker was able to access the tools of restorative justice and reconcile her relationship with the family member that made false allegations against her. Practicing restorative principles has enabled Walker to move forward with her life.
Walker’s goal is to help individuals trapped within the criminal justice system empower themselves with the restorative justice concept so they can proceed with productive lives as well.
To keep informed about this important social justice movement, read Full Circle Restorative Justice part-2, which will soon appear on PrisonEducation.com. It will contain information about FCRJ and Walker’s progress and plans for the future.