By Ali McNally, STATE BILL COLORADO
DENVER—Restorative justice doesn’t provide an instant fix to crimes in communities, but Colorado legislators say it helps.
House and Senate bills introduced Jan. 12 may allow restorative justice as an alternative sentencing option for first-time offenders and juveniles. Restorative justice is a different approach to sentencing allowing dialogue between victims and offenders with their respective families and friends.
“It works,” said Rep. Pete Lee, D-Colorado Springs, a former attorney who is sponsoring HB11-1032 and co-sponsoring SB11-013. “It’s a way to offer a pipeline to kids in breaking the cycle of crime.”
HB11-1032 makes restorative justice options a mandatory pre-sentencing consideration for juveniles. Currently restorative justice sentencing provisions are permitted in juvenile cases during advisement, entry of plea, sentencing and during probation.
Prosecutors say they’re supportive of restorative justice practices, but they are concerned about the language suggesting that restorative justice would be mandatory in alternative sentencing.
“While we’re supportive of restorative justice ideas, we would be concerned about any proposal that mandates a specific approach in any given criminal case, rather than giving us the flexibility to apply the various potential programs that many offices have in their diversion programs,” said Tom Raynes, executive director of the Colorado District Attorneys Council.
Similar to the House bill, SB11-013 adds and defines “restorative mediation” under the mediation provision of the Colorado Dispute Resolution Act, meaning that courts may use it as an alternative sentencing option. Currently, mediation is defined under the act as “an intervention in dispute negotiations by a trained neutral third party with the purpose of assisting the parties to reach their own solution.”
Under the House bill, prosecutors would evaluate juveniles for restorative justice before charging them with crimes. Juvenile offenders and their families would then start conferencing with victims’ families. Schools and correctional facilities would also have restorative justice policies in their disciplinary codes.
“It’s a way of dealing with criminals in getting people to take responsibility for crime and also to allow victims to have their say,” Lee said.
The largest component of the restorative justice process is a series of conferences between the offender and victim, facilitated by a trained mediator. Victim advocates and community members may also attend. Consequences for the offender usually entail community service, restitution and written or verbal apologies.
The House bill does not yet have a co-sponsor, because the bill was drafted as Lee was transitioning into his first term as a state representative, he said. Lee also anticipates Republican support of the bill.
“I can’t imagine anyone who would oppose it,” he said.
The House bill has support from school boards in Colorado Springs as well as the Pikes Peak Restorative Justice Council, a nonprofit coalition of Colorado Springs-area attorneys, school board members and volunteers who support the alternative sentencing option.
“If the victim wants to initiate a conversation with the offender and wants closure, the restorative justice option gives the victim an opportunity to participate in the justice process and for the harm to be repaired,” said Jan Tanner, vice president of Colorado Springs School District 11 and a board member of the Restorative Justice Council.
“They must consider it because of overcrowding in our courts,” Tanner said. “This is a viable alternative to keeping that docket clear.”