In 2011, Colorado state law created new opportunities for victims of crime in the form of High Impact Victim Offender Dialogues.
Restorative justice practices offer both juveniles and adults an opportunity to directly address the harm caused by crime. Restorative justice practices may be used in conjunction with the criminal justice system or as a pre-file diversionary option when appropriate.
In Colorado, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Florida and other states and municipalities where there are trusted and well trained restorative justice practitioners, there are many possibilities for the use of restorative justice practices to support victims/survivors’ healing, promote offender accountability, help reduce collateral consequences and ensure victims have a voice.
What it may look like: Trained restorative justice facilitators prepare participants to talk about what happened, who has been affected and how the harm may be repaired. Depending on the case community members may be invited to talk about the ripple effects of the crime on the community. All parties come together at a designated time and location to sit in a circle where they each have a voice. At the end of the face to face meeting, the person or people responsible for the harm often make agreements to “make things right” to the extent possible. A timeframe is set for completion and the agreement is monitored to track completion and record data.
Does it work? Statistically, more than 90% of participating defendants do everything they say they will do to repair the harm they caused. Of those who complete, on average less than10% will re-offend. More than 95% of the time all participants report feeling satisfied or better with their experience in restorative justice.
Restorative justice is not for everyone. Victims/Survivors must initiate the request for a restorative process. Defendants/offenders must be willing to meet with the victim/survivor and be accountable for their crime.
Restorative justice practices give prosecuting attorneys an innovative option to consider when a victim/survivor wants to meet with the other party. When a victim/survivor wants to know, “Why me?”, “How could this happen to my loved one?” or just wants the person responsible for the crime to HEAR them, restorative justice practices may serve these needs. The restorative justice process may occur any time during the proceedings. Often it occurs later in the justice process , when victims are ready to take that step. Restorative justice practices in Colorado should always be victim-centered and ensure the safety, dignity, respect and fairness for those who choose to participate in the process.
Victim’s may request a restorative justice process at any time. The opportunity for victims to express the pain, fear, anger and loss suffered as a result of an offender’s actions is never foreclosed Victims have the chance to hear the offender’s acceptance of responsibility, expression of remorse and willingness to repair the harm. Victims are empowered by being given a voice in determining how the offender can best repair the harm. They can then begin the process of healing.
When a defendant is accountable and takes responsibility for the specific harm they caused, shows a capacity for empathy or remorse, and is willing to do something tangible to repair the harm, restorative justice practices may be a valuable tool. To initiate the process for restorative justice, Colorado law requires the offender to contact the District Attorney or Prosecutor. The offender is not permitted to contact the victim directly. The Prosecutor shall contact the victim to determine if he or she wishes to participate in a restorative process. If not, the Prosecutor may arrange for trained restorative practices facilitators to offer a restorative process that does not involve the direct victim. Alternative restorative processes may enable a defendant to learn from the experience. What is communicated in the restorative justice process is confidential. Restorative justice provides offenders the opportunity to connect and grow from their mistakes and to repair the harm to the extent possible. Hearing the victim’s story of pain and loss, offenders/defendants often develop empathy for the victim, express remorse and apologize for their actions. Importantly, they are given the chance to repair the harm.
There are several successful programs, experienced facilitators and practitioners around the state that offer support in the use of restorative justice practices from the attorney practitioner point of contact. For more information about what is available in your area visit the RJ Directory or contact Deb Witzel, State Restorative Justice Coordinator; firstname.lastname@example.org (720) 625-5964.
After her daughter was brutally murdered in 2003, Wendy Cohen turned to Restorative Justice for answers and peace.