Everyone makes mistakes, and the City of Fort Collins and Colorado State University have Restorative Justice programs which allow legal mistakes to be handled through conferencing instead of through the courts.
Perrie McMillin, program coordinator for Restorative Justice in Fort Collins, said the program allows individuals to take part in a mediated conversation between the person who caused the harm and those who were affected. The conversation addresses the harm that was caused and how to remedy it.
Once the offender and the people affected agree upon a suitable course of action, this resolution plan is put in a contract and signed by those involved. The person who caused the harm is responsible for honoring the contract within a specific timeline.
Restorative Justice is divided in two programs: RESTORE, which is intended for shoplifting offenses, and Restorative Justice Conferencing Program, which is for other infractions like theft, criminal mischief, trespassing and other offenses.
Of all the participants in the RJCP, 98.3 percent said they were happy with the experience and 99.6 percent from the RESTORE program said the same thing, according to last year’s Restorative Justice Performance Measurements.
Colorado State University also has a Restorative Justice program for students who commit crimes on and off campus.
Melissa Emerson, associate director for Conflict Resolution and Student Conduct Services, said the CSU and Fort Collins Restorative Justice programs empower those harmed by crimes. She said the CSU program provides a unique opportunity for apology and forgiveness.
“People who have participated have overwhelmingly felt like that they have been heard and there have been repairs,” Emerson said. “If you’re told to do something you might have less buy in than if you’re part of that process … this gives a voice to affected parties that our justice system doesn’t.”
Like the Fort Collins program, retributions through CSU Restorative Justice are decided by those harmed and the individual who caused the harm. The repair process varies, but have included mandatory gun safety classes, alcohol classes or requiring the offender to volunteer for RamRide, according to Emerson.
Emerson said completion of a Restorative Justice contract has led to crimes being differed and outright dismissed by the court.
Fort Collins Police Officer Matt Johnson has participated in conferencing through Restorative Justice, as an officer affected by a crime. He said it provides a learning experience and can lead to a reduction in repeat offenses.
“Our vision as an agency is to make Fort Collins the safest community in the nation,” Johnson said. “The goal isn’t to write tickets, it’s to help people learn from bad decisions … this program is beneficial for our community and beneficial for our criminal justice system.”
Collegian City Beat Reporter Danny Bishop can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @DannyDBishop.