10/24/2014

Supporting Restorative Justice

c4rj

I joined Representative Ken Gordon (D-Bedford), who has been a lead advocate in the House of Representatives on restorative justice, and Erin Freeborn, Director of the Juvenile Court Restorative Justice Diversion and Jennifer Larson Sawin, former Executive Director of Communities for Restorative Justice (C4RJ) for an informational briefing at the State House in July 2014.

Helping constituents who have been impacted by crime is an issue I take very seriously as a legislator. Organizations like Communities for Restorative Justice (C4RJ) have closely shaped efforts to support victims of crime and for offenders to take responsibility for the harm they’ve caused through a transformative process called restorative justice. Through this process, victims of a crime, including the members of the larger community, are given the opportunity to address the person who has harmed them and ask questions in a safe environment to learn how the harm can be healed.

When I was a State Representative, I attended a Communities for Restorative Justice meeting in Concord and listened to volunteers and police chiefs talk about the power of the program.

The opportunity for individuals accused of a crime to understand the harm they caused a victim and how impactful it was for the victims to express the trauma and pain they felt was a tremendously powerful moment for me. Equally important, I saw the data behind the practice, that proved that recidivism rates were much lower for youths who went through restorative justice, than a traditional criminal justice process, improving lives while also saving significant public tax dollars.

Based on this experience, I worked with C4RJ and other restorative justice organizations across Massachusetts to file a bill in the 2013-2014 legislative session, creating a statewide local option for restorative justice in Massachusetts for every police department and prosecutor in Massachusetts. S.2078, An Act promoting restorative justice practices aims to make individuals who have committed a crime better understand the implications of their actions and lead them away from becoming a habitual offender. The bill has the support of Middlesex County District Attorney Marian Ryan, and has been endorsed by the Massachusetts Police Chiefs Association.

If the bill is passed, it would provide individuals and families the ability to heal. It would also spread awareness about why crime occurs and how to best prevent it while creating a safer and healthier society for everyone.

During the 2013-2014 legislative session, C4RJ has worked tirelessly to spread awareness in the community and the State House about the transformative power of the restorative process. Working directly with victims and offenders, C4RJ compassionately and expertly educates people about the restorative justice process firsthand from people who have participated in it.

The restorative process has the power to heal for parties on both sides of the criminal justice system and is a highly successful method to reduce the rate of repeat offenders. The process improves public safety and has the potential to reduce the hundreds of millions of dollars that the Commonwealth currently spends on incarceration.

Sadly, Massachusetts remains one of the more outdated states in terms of its criminal justice system, including how we approach the rehabilitation of first-time offenders, and criminals in general. Allowing restorative justice as an option in every community in Massachusetts is a step in the positive direction, and I’m proud of my collaboration with C4RJ, and countless other restorative justice organizations across the state.

For more information about C4RJ and to learn more about the Restorative Justice process, visit their website. For information about my restorative justice bill, please visit my website. In addition, check out this great article that was published in The Huffington Post about this new effort in Massachusetts.

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