Restorative Justice Program

What is the Restorative Justice Program?

The Restorative Justice Program (RJP) at the Center for Dialogue and Resolution (CDR) is a voluntary diversion program for first­-time offenders of certain felony crimes that, if successfully completed, will result in the charges being dismissed by the court. In this program, the defendant will participate in a dialogue process that will include the victim­ – the person that was harmed by the criminal activity. The victim is not required to participate and CDR will provide trained community members as surrogates for those victims who choose not to participate. At its core, RJP provides the opportunity for offenders to accept true accountability for their actions in a dignified and respectful manner. It also provides a safe way for victims to have meaningful participation in how the crime will be addressed and to get needs met, including the opportunity to get answers for many of their questions about both the crime and the person who committed it.

How long does it take?

The offender will have up to nine months from the date of arraignment to complete the diversion program.

How does it start?

Prior to arraignment, the District Attorney (DA) will determine if a defendant is eligible for the diversion program. If a defendant is eligible, the DA will notify the defendant’s attorney of record that the diversion is being offered, in order to provide an opportunity prior to the arraignment for the defendant and attorney to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of accepting the diversion offer. As an example of a possible disadvantage, the offer requires the defendant to admit guilt for the crime at the arraignment, as well as waive a number of important constitutional rights, such as a right to a trial, among others. Once a defendant has accepted the diversion offer at the arraignment, he or she will have seven days in which to contact CDR and pay a diversion fee.

How much does cost?

Currently, there is no cost to enter RJP. Costs are being covered by a grant for the time being. However, this is subject to change.

What is the process?

The process will consist of three meetings (all being held during the first month or two of the diversion period), one that the offender attends, one that the victim attends and one with both together, and then the offender will have the remainder of the nine-month diversion period to complete the program.

  • Offender Intake Meeting – Once the diversion fee is paid, a CDR case manager will set up an initial one-hour-long intake meeting with the defendant. During this meeting the defendant will learn more about the process and goals of the program, and will also discuss the details of the crime, the possible harmful impacts of the crime on the victim (as well as possibly others), and possible ways to repair the harms and impacts caused by the crime.
  • Victim Intake Meeting – After meeting with the offender, the case manager will reach out to the victim to explore whether they might wish to participate in the RJP process. If they do wish to participate, we will then discuss the crime and how it impacted them, as well as possibly others. We will also discuss what the victim might like to see in terms of how an offender might try to repair those harms and impacts. If the victim chooses to not participate directly in the process, then the victim will be asked to write an impact statement, which will be used by a trained surrogate victim that CDR will provide.
  • Facilitated Victim/Offender Dialogue Meeting – During this approximately two-hour meeting, CDR will bring the offender and victim (and possibly other impacted parties) together for the first time. During this meeting, the facilitator will lead a discussion that will
    feel somewhat similar to the intake meetings, but that will likely go even deeper in terms of exploring the crime, the circumstances and motivations behind the crime, and the impacts as experienced by the victim (and possibly others). This will all lead ultimately to a point where the victim and offender together will develop a plan for how the offender will go about repairing the harms. These repairs or tasks, which might include paying restitution and participating in community service, among other things, will be drafted by the facilitator into a written Reparation Agreement that both the victim and offender will receive copies of.
  • Post-meeting Reparation Period – During whatever time remains from the original nine month diversion period, the offender will work diligently to complete the tasks they agreed to in the Reparation Agreement. Once all the tasks are completed satisfactorily, CDR will provide the defendant with a RJP Completion of Diversion Certificate which will become a part of the defendant’s petition to have the charges dismissed.

What are the benefits?

By participating in RJP, a defendant will have an opportunity to accept responsibility for their actions and “make things right”with the person or persons that were harmed by the crime. This will lead to two key benefits. First, as previously stated, the defendant will have an opportunity to have their charge dismissed, which also means there will be no conviction for the felony crime that was diverted through RJP. But perhaps the even more important benefit is that the defendant will not need to feel shame or other negative emotions and will be able to stand tall because they will have understood and acknowledged the harms they caused and then did what was necessary to meaningfully address those harms. In the long run, this will be experienced as growth, maturity and wisdom. The community will no longer need to fear the defendant and instead will accept him or her back into “the tribe” as a responsible and contributing member.

Why would a harmed person want to talk to an offender?

There are any number of reasons a victim might want to participate. They often have questions that go unanswered in the traditional system, in part because the offender is routinely ordered to not have any contact whatsoever with the victim, and also because defense attorneys have a responsibility to try to prevent information or evidence from being presented in court that might harm their client’s
case. In the RJP process the victim can say or ask anything they want, and get to see for themselves how sincere they believe the offender is being. Many victims also report that they are typically limited to a very small part in the traditional criminal justice system despite the fact that they were impacted more than any other person in the courtroom or in the system. In RJP, the victim is empowered to participate in a very substantial and meaningful way. Also, in the traditional system the court has somewhat limited remedies to address a victim’s needs, often focusing on some amount of restitution. But in RJP, the victim’s needs can be addressed in very creative ways. For example, in a case involving a hate crime that was motivated by the victim’s religion, the Reparation Agreement included tasks for the offender such as reading and discussing ancient and modem philosophical texts about the religion and participating in services or other related religious ceremonies : The victim had a front row seat in the transformation of the offender from someone who hated to someone who now has a much better understanding of and compassion for members of that particular religion. Victims who go through the RJP process often report feeling a greater sense of closure and healing.

What happens if a defendant fails to pay the diversion fee, or fails to show up for the required meetings, or fails to complete the tasks in their Reparation Agreement, or commits another crime within the diversion period?

In each of these situations the defendant will have failed to satisfactorily meet the requirements of their diversion agreement and the case will be referred back to the court for conviction and sentencing based on their prior plea of guilt.

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