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.