In 2011, Colorado state law created new opportunities for victims of crime in the form of High Impact Victim Offender Dialogues.
Police Departments, Sheriff’s Offices, School Resource Officers and Campus Police Departments have integrated restorative justice practices as part of their tool kit of responses to appropriate crimes in some areas of Colorado. When there is a restorative justice program available to them, officers may use their discretion to make diversionary referrals to restorative justice practices in both juvenile and adult cases. Law enforcement personnel are often in the best position to assess whether the offender accepts accountability for the offense and is thus suitable to participate in restorative justice.
What it may look like: Trained restorative justice facilitators prepare participants to meet face to face to talk about what happened, who has been affected and how the harm may be repaired. Often community members are invited to talk about the ripple effects of the crime on the community. In many programs law enforcement officers also participate to ensure offenders understand the laws and potential consequences if they proceed through the traditional justice system. 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 make agreements with the others attending the dialogue 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, >90% of participating offenders do everything they say they will do to repair the harm they caused. Of those who complete, on average < 10% will re-offend in the following year. Over 95% of the time all participants report feeling satisfied or better with their experience in restorative justice.
Restorative justice practices ensure victims have a voice, offenders are held accountable and the community is engaged. Chief Mike Butler, Public Safety Chief in Longmont, Colorado states that the local restorative justice services provider (LCJP) has been instrumental in reducing crime and conflict in Longmont. Longmont has been one of the top rated cities in CO and the US for safety and happy citizens for many years. (http://longmontcolorado.gov/departments/departments-n-z/public-safety-department/public-safety-chief )
When considering the use of restorative justice practices, know that compelling offenders to apologize, perform community service, pay restitution or ask for forgiveness is NOT restorative justice. Voluntary participation is a fundamental principal of restorative justice. Agreements are created cooperatively and based on the strengths and of the person responsible for repairing the harm.
Apologies, meaningful community service, restitution and offers of forgiveness often occur as part of a restorative justice agreement or contract. But requiring any of these things is contrary to the principles of restorative justice practices.
Restorative justice practices may also happen at other points along the continuum of the criminal justice system, when available and appropriate, such as after plea discussions, as a part of sentencing or as a component of probation or parole.
There are several successful programs around the state that offer restorative justice practices, training, reports and research to support the use of restorative justice practices from the law enforcement point of contact.
To identify programs and practitioners in your area visit the RJ Directory.
For more information contact Deb Witzel, State Restorative Justice Coordinator; email@example.com or (720) 625-5964.