Restorative Justice in Keene: A Comparison of Three Restorative Justice Programs in New England. James R. Cooprider

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1 : A Comparison of Three Restorative Justice Programs in New England James R. Cooprider In the fall of 2011, anti-semitic graffiti was found on campus at Keene State College. Resident assistants reported finding swastikas on dorm room walls and the words "white pride" in a bathroom. Even though the damage was obvious, it was not possible to find the responsible party. 1 If the perpetrator had been found then they would have been charged with vandalism and been brought before a hearing board. This hearing board could have administered sanctions in the form of a suspension or a dismissal from the school. The offending student would have been removed from the Keene State community and would have become someone else's problem. Keene State, however, did not know which student or students were responsible for the vandalism. Instead of punishing the guilty party, the school could only focus on restoring the community. The school facilitated discussion groups for students to talk about how they were affected by the act. Even students who were not targeted by the biased graffiti were able to voice their concerns about feeling unsafe in their community. This allowed all of the students affected, both directly and indirectly, the opportunity to voice their concerns and have them addressed. The hope was that the guilty party would hear how their actions affected their peers and understand all of the unintended consequences. Dottie Morris, the chief officer of Multiculturalism and Diversity, said, "What we want to do is not kick this person out of the community, but re-integrate them after the harm was done." 2 Even if the perpetrator was not present in one of these facilitated discussion groups the process was a success because it helped restore the community from the harm that was done Id. 1

2 What is Restorative Justice? Restorative Justice focuses on restoring the harm that was done. With this focus, crime is not viewed as a violation of the law, but as a violation of relationships and people. In the example at Keene State, the focus had to be on harm caused by the graffiti because perpetrator was unknown. Restorative Justice would focus on the harm even when the perpetrator is known. One of the underlying assumptions of Restorative Justice is that crime is fundamentally a violation of people and interpersonal relationships. 3 While the victims are the most effected by a crime, others in the community are also affected. Witnesses can be affected just by seeing the crime occur. Even people who do not witness the offense first hand can be affected. Both the victim's family and the offenders family can also feel lasting effects of the offense. Everyone that is affected by the offence has an interest in justice. Another assumption of Restorative Justice is that every violation creates an obligation and responsibility. 4 The primary obligation is that of the offender to the victims. The offender has an obligation to repair the harm that the offense caused. There is also an obligation for the community to promote the welfare of its members. This includes both the victim and the offender. Goal of Restorative Justice The goal of Restorative Justice is to heal and put right the wrongs. This includes healing the victim, healing the community, and healing the offender. Howard Zehr stated, "Restorative Justice is a process to involve, to the extent possible, those who have a stake in a specific offense 3 Howard Zehr and Harry Mika, "Fundamental Principles of Restorative Justice," The Contemporary Justice Review, Vol. 1, No. 1 (1998), Id. 2

3 and to collectively identify and address harms, needs, and obligations, in order to heal and put things as right as possible." 5 The first things that must be addressed are the victims' needs. They must feel safe and have the support that they need. Once they are safe and supported, victims will be empowered to participate in the process if they would like. This allows them to feel validated and vindicated and also might answer some of their questions. 6 The community must also be involved in this process both because it was harmed and because it has resources that can help. Because every community wants to promote the welfare of its members, any crime committed within the community harms the community. Physical crimes like vandalism are easily seen and the harm is obvious, but less visible offenses like lying and cheating harm the trust within a community. The community has an interest in repairing these harms and preventing them from occurring again. Involving the community facilitates healing because involving the community increases the possibilities available to help healing. The community can provide opportunities for offenders to take responsibility for their actions, work to repair the harm, and learn from their mistakes. 7 Restorative Justice is also mindful of the needs of the offender. One of the goals of restorative Justice is to help the author of the act develop a greater understanding of the consequences of his actions. Many times the offender has committed an offense because of some external factor. For example, a man who steals to provide food for his family. This does not mean that his crime is permissible, but Restorative Justice works to remedy the situation so 5 Howard Zehr, "The Little Book of Restorative Justice" (2002), Zehr and Mika, (1998) at Id. 3

4 that man is not compelled to steal again. 8 Side Effects of Restorative Justice Restorative Justice works to provide healing, but many times there are unintended side effects of this process. Two of these side effects are decrease recidivism and decreased costs. Recidivism can be decreased by helping the offender recognize the harm caused and helping them reintegrate into the community. In a recent study done in Vermont found that reparative probation significantly reduces the likelihood of a new conviction. The study found that offenders that went through a reparative process decreased the odds of a new conviction during probation by 23%. This effect also carries over to the first five years after probation with a 12% reduction in recidivism after completion of probation. 9 In a similar nationwide study researchers found that while the recidivism rate for traditional criminal justice was 27%, the recidivism rate for restorative justice programs were 18%. 10 Reducing recidivism will also reduce costs. When the justice system does not need to deal with the same offenders over and over again, the funds can be used on other more serious offenders. The reparative process is also less expensive. Most restorative panels consist of trained volunteers. Because the volunteers are not paid, this process tends to be less expensive than the conventional approach. 11 Some times Restorative Justice processes lead to reconciliation. As mentioned previously, the goal of restorative Justice is to focus on the needs of the victim. This may mean a meeting 8 Id. 9 J. A. Humphrey, G. Burford, and M. P. Huey, "Reparative versus Standard Probation: Community Justice Outcomes," (2006), Umbreit, Mark S "Restorative Justice Through Victim-Offender Mediation: A Multi-Site Assessment." Western Criminology Review 1(1). 11 Id. 4

5 with the offender and may mean reconciliation. This will not always be the case. Reconciliation is not always the goal of restorative justice. 12 The Brattleboro Community Justice Center in Vermont The most established of the Restorative Justice programs researched is also the closest one to Keene. The Brattleboro Community Justice Center (BCJC) in Vermont is a community Restorative Justice Center that is fully backed by the State. In 2000, Restorative Justice became state law policy under Title 28 VSA 2a. Referrals to the BCJC come from all aspects of criminal justice continuum. Before an offense is even committed the BCJC has programs to prevent conflict through mediation. Once an offense has been committed then the Justice Alternatives program works with offenders of misdemeanors to repair the harm and avoid having the charge on their record. If an arrest has already been made and charges have been brought, if the author of the action pleads guilty then they may be sent to a reparative panel as part of their sentence. The other program that BCJC has is the Circles of Support and Accountability. This program works with offenders reintegrate into society after having served time in a state facility. 13 The money for the these programs at the BCJC is also supplied by the State. The Vermont Agency of Human Services provides a grant for the center and the town of Brattleboro makes an in-kind match. This money, in addition to charitable contributions, is used to fund the programs offered by the BCJC such as Justice Alternatives, Reparative Probation, and Prisoner Reentry. 12 Zehr, (2002) at Brattleboro Community Justice Center, "Reparative Panelist Volunteer Training Manual," (2012), 18. 5

6 Justice Alternatives is the program that the BCJC offers to people before any court process take place. It is offered to perpetrators of misdemeanors such as noise violations, petty larceny, or disorderly conduct among others. 14 This program works with victims to provide support. Justice Alternatives provides opportunities for the receiver of the act to express how they were affected by the offense. It also provides a chance for the victim to hear an admission of responsibility from the offender. The victim is also able to have a say in what the offender must do to make things right. By giving the victim these opportunity this program is able to provide for the needs of the victims before the court process even starts. 15 Justice Alternatives also works to provide for the needs of an offender. The Justice Alternative facilitator works with the offender to help them understand the harm that has been done. The facilitator also works with the offender to initiate a plan to make things right. In this way the Justice Alternatives Program at the BCJC works with both offenders and victims to meet their needs. 16 If the offender pleads guilty after charges are filed then they may have to a reparative probation as part of their sentence. During Reparative Probation the offender meets with a Reparative Panel to discuss four questions. Who was impacted or harmed by the offense? How were they impacted or harmed? What can the offender do to repair the harm done or make things right? What steps can the offender take to avoid re-offending? Id. 16 Id. 17 "Reparative Panelist Volunteer Training manual," (2012) at 13. 6

7 The panel consists of four to six trained volunteers. The process consists of four meetings over the course of 90 days. This usually means there is a month in between each session for the offender to do whatever activities that he or she agrees to. 18 The first part of this process consists of establishing common ground. This includes everyone introducing themselves and working to build up a relationship of trust. Once people have been introduced the panel goes over the reparative process and the ground rules for the panel. At this point the panel also works with the offender to make a plan to avoid reoffending. 19 Once common ground is established the panel works with the author of the act so all can understand the impact of the harm. If the victim elects to be present at the panel then the victim has an opportunity to share how the offense impacted them. When the victim shares how they were impacted the offender is asked to restate how the victim was impacted and the victim acknowledges that the offender understands the impact. The panel also asks the offender to consider the impact of the offense on the community (and the victim if the victim does not elect to be present). The panel may help point out additional impacts of the offense. 20 After hearing the impact of the offense the next step is for the offender to accept responsibility. The panel may ask the offender what were their thoughts or feelings at the time of the offense. The goal is to get the offender to take responsibility for their part in the incident. This means acknowledging what was done without excuses about their behavior. 21 Once the offender has accepted responsibility for their actions everyone works together to develop a plan to address the harm. The victim (if present) will express what they need from the offender to make amends and the offender responds to the victim's expectations. The offender "Reparative Panelist Volunteer Training manual," (2012) at Id. at Id. at 25. 7

8 will also discuss how they might make amends to the community. The panel might help at this point suggest other ways to restore the community. The panel also works with the offender to discuss how to handle the situation in the future. This allows everyone to discuss how the offender might avoid reoffending. Then the panel works with the offender to craft an agreement that accomplishes the reparative goals. The agreement is then signed by the offender and the panelists, and the victim is given the opportunity to sign. Once the agreement is signed the reparative probation is complete and the offender continues with the other aspects of his sentence. 22 Circles of Support and Accountability works with offenders who have been incarcerated for at least six months. This program engages the community in repairing the relationships that have been damaged by criminal behavior. This is accomplished by working with the offender to develop a plan to to make amends to the victim and community. 23 Communities for Restorative Justice In Massachusetts there is also interest in Restorative Justice. Unlike in Vermont, however, Restorative Justice is not the law in Massachusetts. This has not prevented them from starting Restorative Justice programs. Communities for Restorative Justice is an expanding organization that started with three people in Concord MA. It has since expanded into several communities in Massachusetts. 24 Communities for Restorative Justice (C4RJ) is a community and police partnership. Each community can handle this partnership a little differently. The police refer cases to C4RJ and supplies part of the funding. This partnership allows the police to better respond to the needs of 22 Id. at

9 the victims. It also gives the police an intermediate response between starting a full prosecution and letting the offender off the hook. 25 One concern about this model of restorative justice is that it seems that the police are giving up some of their control over the justice process. To address this concern C4RJ has several safe guards. One safe guard is that unlike the BCJC, C4RJ requires a police officer to sit in on the process. In addition to this, the police chief sits on the C4RJ board. The police chief will have veto power over the volunteers to help give them a little more control over the process. In addition to all of these safeguards, if at the end of the process the victim is not satisfied or the offender has not taken responsibility then the case is returned to the police department and traditional prosecution can proceed. 26 After C4RJ gets a referal, there is an intake process. Members of C4RJ meet with all of the affected parties including the victim, the offender, their families, and community members to learn about the incident. Specifically they look for what needs were created. This is also an opportunity to prepare everyone for the reparative circle process. 27 The opening circle is held at a time and place of the victim's choosing. C4RJ convenes all the affected parties, community volunteers, and a law enforcement officer. At the circle the offender tells the story of what happened. The victim then shares how they were affected by the crime. The group then works together towards a plan of repair by consensus Id Id. 9

10 Once consensus is reached a C4RJ volunteer offers support to the offender as they meet their obligations such as letters of apology, restitution, or service. Part of this may include keeping the victim updated on the offenders progress. 29 Approximately two months after the opening circle the group should reconvene. This gives the offender a chance to reflect on what they have learned. It also gives the community and the victim a chance to acknowledge the work that the offender has done. This helps the offender feel more integrated into the community. 30 This process does well to accomplish the goals of restorative justice. Once the process is complete C4RJ gives all of the participants surveys to determine the participants perception of the fairness and whether or not their need were met. These surveys show that victims and their support have a satisfaction rate of 89%. The community volunteers have a satisfaction rate of 90%. The law enforcement officers that are present for the process rated their satisfaction as being 89%. Even the offenders involved have a satisfaction rate of 94%. Overall, the communities that have adopted this program are happy with the result. 31 Restorative Justice Project of the Mid-Coast In 2005 a community in Maine formed the Restorative Justice Project of the Midcoast. This organization has four different programs that focus on Restorative Justice. Due to not having as much support as Vermont of Massachusetts, most of these programs are through the schools and are for juveniles. 32 Restorative School Practices are is a program that works with educators to encourage Restorative Justice practices in schools. This program has provided training to over 1, Id. 30 Id

11 teachers, staff, administrators and school boards all over Maine. It also works to keep students engaged and connected to the school community. 33 The Community Resolution Team provides a diversion program for first time juvenile offenders. Referrals for this program can come from juvenile community correction officers, district attorneys or local law enforcement. Offenders meet with facilitators, community participants and the victim to discuss the impact of the offense. This also gives the offender an opportunity to accept responsibility for their actions. The team works with the offender to figure out ways to restore the community. Over 130 juvenile offenders have been through this process and 90% of them have completed the agreements created in these conferences. In addition to this restoration, 95% of the juveniles that go through this program do not reoffend. 34 The Restorative Justice Project also has a Court Deferred Disposition program for low risk individuals in difficult situations, felonies, or misdemeanor crimes. People are referred to this process by the District Attorney's Office. Individuals that are referred to this program are given a mentor and conferences are held to work with the victim and the offender to create an agreement. 35 The Restorative Justice Project of the Midcoast also has an offender reentry program. This program works with minimum security males who are nearing the completion of their incarceration. These males usually have a high risk for recidivating. The program provides conferences with the offender's family and community so that the offender can have the support to successfully reenter society. 36 What can we do?

12 After having examined these other programs in New England, we must decide if this is something we would like to pursue. Creating a Restorative Justice program in the Keene area will require work and a major change in how we look at the criminal justice system. Luckily, there are many resources available that can help make this change. The Brattleboro Community Justice Center offers restorative justice trainings for people who volunteer there. Having such a well run program so close to Keene is something that should be used to help establish Keene's own program. Communities for Restorative Justice is another great resource available for starting a Restorative Justice Program. While that program started just in Concord, it has worked with police departments in other communities to grow to 14 different communities. They are always willing to help more communities form restorative programs. Restorative Justice is not meant to replace the justice system that currently exists. It is meant to supplement the existing justice system and fill in the holes. In order to add this program to the justice system that already exists in Keene the knowledge and interest in the program must continue to be cultivated. Restorative Justice is about healing the community, and if the community is not actively involved then it will not work. 12

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