Lead Sponsor: Senator Jamie Eldridge
Summary: This bill amends the current sentencing and court diversion laws to allow police, clerk magistrates, judges, and other court personnel to require an offender’s participation in a restorative justice program.
Why This Matters: Restorative justice is a theory of justice that emphasizes repairing the harm caused by criminal behavior, as opposed to just handing down a punishment. Restorative justice programs can be used to keep certain offenses out of the court system, saving the state valuable time and money, but still holding the offender accountable to the victim and the community.
Someone arrested for spray-painting graffiti, for example, may be asked to apologize to the property owner in person, and then spend his or her own time and money to paint over the graffiti. When the offender completes these requirements, the police can drop the case, keeping the offender out of court but still accountable for his or her actions.
Restorative justice helps victims by providing an opportunity to get an explanation and apology from the offender. As has been demonstrated in studies, many victims find closure through this process, and are better able to move on from the crime.
At the same time, it helps keep low-level offenders – particularly first-time and youthful offenders – out of the criminal justice system. Studies have shown that recidivism rates are significantly reduced for participants in restorative justice programs, and that these programs tend to cost far less than traditional court processes.
Restorative justice is not “new”: there are nearly 300 programs in the U.S. and the approach is well established in countries like New Zealand, throughout the United Kingdom, and in South Africa.
What this Bill Would Do: This bill creates an option for law enforcement and courts to divert juvenile and low-level adult criminal offenders to a community-based restorative justice program in lieu of criminal penalties. The diversion may be made at the arrest, pre-arraignment, or sentencing phase.
Restorative justice practices may include voluntary meetings among victim, offender, supporters, and community members that provide an opportunity to meet victim needs, hold an offender accountable, explore the impact of the crime on the community, and agree upon a constructive plan of repair by consensus.