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Restorative Justice in the Criminal Justice System

 

I have been along in my police department for almost nine years. When I first heard about restorative justice was a little early of the program. I was a new officer and just out with a Camry ready to hit the ground, protect people, arrest people, sent them all to jail. That was my job. If you violate the law, you go to jail. The first time I did restorative justice, my eyes were kind of open to the process. It really had impact upon me.

 

It was several juveniles about six to eight that had broken into an old chemical factory and had marred marks. As I was working at the night shift, like all the new officers do, I came upon and opened door and I saw bodies running from me. And they ran off into a field. As a new office, I chased. Because that was the sorts we do. At that time that I saw these boys in the field, they were hiding in the tall grass. So I could not see these bodies. I just knew there were six to eight, to me, bad guys out in the field. And the dogs were coming. My gun was out ready for someone to jump up trying to do something to me. At that point, someone could have got severely injured either by me with my gun, or by any others using force, or with the dogs biting them. Eventually, I had them all stand up and give up. Then I realized “oh, my gosh, here I am out with 10-13 year old boys. Gosh, they’ve all committed felonies. They’ve all committed burglary for what they did inside of the building.” And I thought, “Oh, my gosh, they are only 10 to 13. I do not want to start these guys with the felony criminal records.” So I thought of in my mind the restorative justice program. So I put them through the process. And that is what opened my eyes to what the program was like.

 

At that time, the schedule for what we had was we called “the circle process”. At that point, I was like “Circle process! What is that exactly means? Is that meant we are going get in a circle and we hug each other? I am not good with that. I am a police office.” So I went to the circle process. I was expecting pretty much that I would sit there, I would be the kind of hard line cop, and said that “you boys are bad. And you did the bad things. I am cutting you a break by sending you here to this circle process saving you.” But it did not turn out to be that way at all. It was completely different from what I expected. During the circle, when I had my time to speak, I kind of surprised myself, because I was not in that authoritative role. It was more educating the kids and, to a great degree, their parents, because their parents were there also. These boys could have got severely injured inside the building, because it was a chemical factory. They actually made gold plate components for the air space in this district. So during that, they had large base of hydrochloric gas inside. So the building was basically a biohazard building. Once I explained that bad things could have happened, the parents were in tears and actually thanking us for turning out the way it did and not the terrible way it could have. It made a major impact upon everybody.

 

I came to see the restorative justice process as a very positive thing that I could use. Especially when I got on and on in my career, I started to see people I arrested were the same people over and over again to a point that you started to know their names. The people that I dealt with restorative justice I would not see them again. Or if I did, it was more like driving by away. But I start to see it more as a tool to help the people that needed help. Cause they essentially just needed education. They needed to see how what they did affect more than “I broke the law. I got probation”. You know, they go into the court system, they have to plead a deal, or they go through the trial. If they have found guilty, or they plead guilty to the charge, then a lot of time they go into the probation. They go through the probation process, and they have community services. Once they satisfy that, satisfy the terms, their probation would be done. In the restorative justice, they still have the process they will have to go through. It is the process that can take several months. After the circle, we determine what is going to make this right. Everybody in the circle, everybody was affected by it says how we are going to make it right. And we come to an agreement with that subject in there, “ok, this is what you have to do.” So they do have the process. Say that same kid who did the graffiti may go out and clean up the park, taking active roles actually, instead of destroying the community. He realizes that I can make my community better. But because he is going into that, while he may have few hours spending in the park. Not that this is my punishment. It is more of “I did something wrong. I now understand it is not just the wall. But it was the community affected. And there were people involved. I am going to get back. I am going to make it better.” In restorative justice, people have to take responsibility for what they did. To even be considered for the process, they have to admit and take the responsibility for it. “Yes, that is me who did that.” Then the officer can determine “ok, taking ownership of what they did immediately, so now we can take them into the next step and put them through the process.” So in the normal situation of law enforcement, when someone did something and I am going to charge them, often time they won’t take any sort of ownership for it. Because when they do it, they are admitting that they did something wrong and they know they are going to be put through a court process.

 

Restorative justice program impacts the victims in a much better way than the court system often does. A court system can order someone to pay somebodies back for damage they may have caused to their houses or their properties. Those people get that back, but there is no healing or closure between the victim and the person that did the crime.

 

I believe restorative justice fits for any sort of crime. I have sent anyone from petty offences up to recently sevenary count felony adult crime.

 

This year I have a crime with someone committed several counts felony prescription fraud. I was hard on the case to find that persons, locate them, identify them, and arrest them on felonies, and sent them to jail for what they have done. After working my case, finding my suspect, and meeting with my suspect, I realize that this is not that hard core drug addicted person who needs to go to jail. It was a mother who was a choir instructor full time, who had children, who had a very supportive family around her, from her husband to her in-laws. And I realize “oh, my gosh, I don’t want to assist this person and destroy her own life with the felony. Several felonies.”

 

Knowing that there is restorative justice available, it gives you more options. It helps you to look at the people to say “This is a serious crime. Are you a serious criminal? Well, then may be it might not work for you. Or this is a serious crime. But I do not think you are a serious criminal. Then it is definitely the program you would send the people through.”

 

The criminal justice system is needed. It does work. But in order to reduce crime overall, I believe, stay awhile, we need to increase our use of restorative justice, because of the impact that it makes, while I believe the future criminals it takes out of the system.

 

 

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In 2003 Lacy Jo Miller was kidnapped, brutalized, sexually assaulted, and murdered. She was 20 years old.

 

Victim’s mother Wendy Cohen: Lacy was realistic and funny and shy and not competitive at all. She was very princess-like, very kind and compassionate to other people. Or everybody tell her their problems, she would do very thoughtful things. Like if it were her birthday, she would make me a little special gift. She would have a tea party for her girl friends. She would make name tags. She was just sweet and thoughtful and very strong in her beliefs. She was sweet. I think sweet would be a good description of her.

 

Her Murderer was 23 years old Jason, Who was getting ready to deploy for the army.

 

Victim’s mother: He had guns, and police batons, and all that stuff, handcuffs and everything. And he has the history of behavior where he was bulling people. All he was pretending to be were bills bondsmen and police officers.

 

They found Lacy’s body 10 days after her disappearance.

 

Victims’ mother: I am really good friends of two women from Danvers, who one’s daughter was killed in a combat, and the other one’s son was murdered at the front porch on the graduation night by a random gangster. And we spent a weekend up until the bright morn and to both of them I said, “I do not what to do. I have this opportunity to meet with this family. Do you think I should? ” The one for the daughter of the combat, she said, “I am not allowed to meet the other family by law. I signed the deposition that I will not bother them. I will give up anything to sit down with one of the mothers and find out why.”

 

Wendy & James, the brother, continued to meet. I need him to see that and feel that. I decided to meet them.

 

Victim’s mother Wendy Cohen: I really wanted her to see who he killed. I wanted her to see who he took. She was so valuable to all of us. And I needed her to see that and feel that. Against all opposition from my family, mostly because they did not understand, I decided to meet with them. And we all sat down at my house with his mother, Jason’s mother, his brother, my husband and I. And they were skeptical. We were skeptical. We just hugged and cried, and cried and hugged, and cried some more. And then I just said “what was it like for you?” And then she talked, in my felt, like an exploding, and in her felt, like an imploding. You know we both had the same thing. And she talked about how awful it was, how she just did not understand how she could raise in a Christian home, raise two children, and they turned out to be differently, how she could look at his pictures from he’s a little one, yet she still loved him. She was struggling like I was struggling the way, on the other side of it.

 

Wendy & James, the brother, continued to meet. They now speak to victims, offenders & their families about restorative justice.

 

Victim’s mother Wendy Cohen: For me, the restorative justice is his family has totally validated my lost and helps me healed. And what heals me is knowing that if we work together, we can prevent this from happening to somebody else, or we can help another family who really need to get together like we did, so that they can get healed. Most of it is about answering my question. What happened? How did he go from being in Christian school to murdering my daughter? Somebody draw the line there. Somebody take me through that. There is something that the court can not do. They put him in jail. Great! He is in jail, he is not going to hurt everybody else. But how about all of us who were grieving and lost and questioning our faith and all of that? Even for his family too. The same is with them. Some people do not have the money to pay for their therapy. But you know both of you can work together and help each other get through it. It is free and it works. I think the system needs a change. I think this should be offered on every level of crime because I think we will be a better society. We have a punitive justice system. Restorative justice is what we need to have, because restorative includes everyone. Punitive just includes the person who offended. I will tell you what. Restorative justice is not for the weak. It is not for the pansy. It is a tough thing to go through. It is much easier to hate. You close yourself off. It is much easier. This has been a tough project for me to get healed. It destroyed you physically. It destroyed you spiritually. It destroyed you emotionally. The anger and hate ends with the bitterness. And it will kill you and steal you life. The other way, the restorative way, the healing way, it is difficult. But the end reward is peaceful and physically you are healthier, your relationship with your children and your love ones are healthier, you do no lose your marriage. You know, you are able to laugh again, and enjoy your life again, and have hopes again.

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 This school happens to be in Michigan, but it could any other schools anywhere.

 Restorative Justice Coordinator: Restorative justice is less a tool, really, and more a way of being, in a world of being with other people, a way of being in our society, which helps us to understand that our actions have an impact far a greater than we may ever have imagined. And when we focus only on punishment as we do sometimes in traditional school discipline we find that we lose sight of that connection, whereas when we’re focusing on how do we heal, how do we clean up the messes we make. And we all, we all, make messes. How do we heal those, how do we clean those messes up, that is when we find that we are able to really truly be in community.

 Restorative justice is a different approach from traditional school discipline.

 Restorative Justice Coordinator: Under the traditional school discipline process, you look at the situation of misconduct, and you ask what rule was broken, and what is the punishment. But restorative justice comes at that same situation of misconduct from a different ankle, restorative justice asks what harm has caused by this incident, and how do we heal that harm. By changing the approach from punishment to healing, we have found that we have empowered students, we have opened the possibility up for education, and we have created much stronger community with the students who have used this process.

 What is restorative justice? Restorative justice is a peaceful conflict resolution tool. It is an approach to school discipline that works because it:

l     Engages all the parties affected by misconduct and conflict.

l     Empowers the victim and community to identify the harm and define what must be done to repair it.

l     Empowers the offender to take the necessary steps to heal the harm and return to the community as a full, productive member.

l     Imposes accountability and gives students the skills to resolve future conflicts peacefully.

 Fourth grader Sydney Letau has found that restorative justice can help. When friendship issue led her to the school peace center, she used restorative justice program to solve the problem.

 Sydney: I went to the peace center, because I have troubles with my friends and my want to be friend again. But I did not know how to do it.

 Parents: In early childhood we talk about wanting children to internalize rules, which is why we tell them the reason for rules. Well, beyond this is a rule, and this is not a rule, when you get into the social aspect of life. There are not black and white rules. It is not this is right and this is wrong. It is very situational. So it is much more difficult for children to internalize what is appropriate socially, what is not appropriate socially. So giving children this tool at their young age, and giving all children the tools, it is going to help them be more successful.

 Sydney: We all sat on the table, and we had a ball. And she would give it to the first person, and the first person would tell their story. And then let everybody goes around. So nobody can talk, when they did not have that piece ball.

 Parent: Growing up, there is nothing like this, you know, when I was growing up.That I can recall. For her, to be able to use, be able to deal with conflicts better vocal, you know, communication that, this is so much better from I was growing up. You know, fights involved. This is so much better for her and to learn the process.

 Sydney: After that, we were back to the classroom and we actually made up a sign. If you did not want to talk to them, cause you were too mad. So every time we do not want to talk to them, we make of that sign. It goes like that.

 Principle: I think, if we are careful about training children at an early age, in terms of how to handle conflicts, how to handle stress, how to handle their emotional brain, so to speak, that we will have far better students at the middle school level, we will have far more capable students at the high school level, and healthier adults ultimately latter on down the road who will be able to handle their conflicts in a peaceful productive manner. And if we can feel a little more with our hearts and instead of with our fists, we certainly will have a far better world for all us to live in.

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