Colorado’s Omnibus Restorative Justice Legislation

A very significant bill signed into law by Colorado’s governor on June 7 2011. Read the text here (pdf, may take awhile to open).

Below is the summary from Colorado Capitol Watch. But before you get there I want to make a brief editorial comment. I’ve just finished a three-and-half-year stint working in the restorative justice field in Northern California. It is my impression that most officials in our area view restorative justice as a fine program provided by non-profits, which may or may not survive in the current fiscal climate, but which are ultimately expendable. There is little financial commitment to restorative justice, and even less interest in making significant systemic change. I have often heard the opinion expressed that restorative justice is “ok for juveniles, as long as they’re not gang members,” with the implication that that’s about all that it’s good for. I’ve seen how prosecutors tend to be very suspicious of restorative justice, perceiving it as being pro-offender and therefore likely to leave victims who participate feeling mistreated–this in spite of the solid evidence that 94% of victims in our program are very satisfied with it and many report that their involvement with restorative justice was the only healing and supportive contact they found anywhere in the system. In my local area there is now a movement underway to adapt to declining funding by relying almost entirely upon volunteers to provide restorative justice. I have heard professional facilitators ask (reasonably, I think), “If we don’t ask judges, prosecutors, defenders, police, probation officers, etc. to work without pay, why should we ask RJ facilitators to do so?”  It’s a big issue, and one that I’ve found discouraging.

In Colorado the political landscape is different. So, below is the summary of the bill. If you like this, go to the website, download and print out the legislation, and send it to your representatives, county supervisors, chief probation officers, and district attorneys. Someday someone is going to listen.

P.S.–This will probably be my last entry in this blog; as of today I’m no longer at Restorative Resources. I will be carrying restorative justice principles into new ventures.

–Amos Clifford

==============x===========From Colorado Capitol Watch==========x=============

The bill adds restorative justice to the options a court has when it imposes an alternative sentence instead of incarceration or as a part of a probation sentence.

Under current law, restorative justice sentencing provisions are permitted in juvenile cases during advisement, entry of plea, sentencing, and during probation. The bill would make some of those provisions mandatory, including provisions that would require most juveniles to undergo a presentence evaluation to determine whether restorative justice is a suitable sentencing option. Prior to charging a juvenile for the first time, which juvenile would be subject to misdemeanor or petty offenses, the district attorney shall assess whether the juvenile is suitable for restorative justice. If the district attorney determines the juvenile is suitable, the district attorney may offer the juvenile the opportunity to participate in restorative justice rather than charging the juvenile.

The bill directs the department of corrections to establish policies and procedures for facilitated victim-offender dialogues in institutions under the control of the department, which would arrange the dialogues if requested by the victim and agreed to by the offender.

The bill encourages each school district in the state and the state charter school institute to implement restorative justice practices that each school in the district or each institute charter school can use in its disciplinary program.

The bill creates the right for a victim to be informed by the district attorney about the availability of restorative justice practices and the possibility of a victim-offender conference.

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