Lead Sponsor: Senator Jamie Eldridge
Summary: This bill creates an option for law enforcement and courts to refer juvenile and low-level adult criminal offenders to a community-based restorative justice program in lieu of or alongside other responses. The referral may be made pre-complaint, at the arrest, pre-arraignment, or sentencing phase and is contingent upon victim wishes. 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 upon community, and agree upon a constructive plan of repair by consensus.
Why This Matters: Restorative justice is an approach to community harm and criminal justice that emphasizes repairing the harm caused by the event, 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.
You can view the full text of the bill and track its history here.
You can view the full text of the bill and track its history