Restorative justice practices are built on the idea of allowing victims and offenders to communicate. The goal is to help victims heal and offenders to reform, and there’s a push to triple such programs in Florida.
There are a number of restorative justice programs being run in Florida, most working with youth. But there are some who want to see the idea used more often.
On Monday, Tallahassee faith groups invited Mike Butler, the public safety chief for the City of Longmont, Colorado, to talk about programs in his community.
“In the criminal justice system, there’s no legal provision for a victim’s voice within the criminal justice system. In the restorative justice process, it’s the centerpiece,” Butler told reporters. “The victim more or less gets to guide what happens in the restorative justice process.”
Butler says restorative justice can be an alternative, or a complement, to the criminal justice system. But, he adds, it’s all about accountability. That’s why Butler says kids who went through Longmont’s program saw their recidivism rate drop below 10 percent in its first three years.
“When you’re now connected to the victim in a way that you weren’t connected before – the only connection you had is that you harmed that victim in some form or fashion – but now there’s this deeper, emotional, maybe even psychological or spiritual connection that you have with somebody,” Butler said.
Butler says those connections are a powerful force for bringing lasting changes in behavior.
Dan Kahn is executive director of the Florida Restorative Justice Association. He also works with the Community Connections program. It’s a partnership with the Leon County Sheriff’s Office that focuses on dialogues between youth and police.
“Tallahassee is in the middle of a search for a new police chief,” Kahn said. “And honestly, we would love for that search to include some sense of the importance of restorative practices.”
Tallahassee faith groups hosted Butler for a community forum on restorative justice last night at Good Samaritan United Methodist Church.