June 12, 2012

An Alternative Justice Program

THE MARIN County Civil Grand Jury is calling for broader use of "restorative justice," a law enforcement philosophy that emphasizes reconciliation over punitive retribution.

In a new report, "Restorative Justice: Its time Has Come in Marin County," the grand jury acknowledged that the practice strikes some as "soft on crime."

But after studying its use elsewhere - in places such as New Zealand, Brazil, Vermont and major California cities - the grand jury said its expanded use in Marin could save the taxpayers money, reduce recidivism and ease the burden on courts, the county jail and Juvenile Hall.

"Expansion of restorative justice in Marin County - by schools, the adult and youth criminal justice systems, and neighborhoods and communities - must be undertaken," the report said.

Under the restorative justice approach, offenders meet with community facilitators and sometimes the victims, discuss the impact of their actions, and negotiate how to make appropriate amends.

The offender then has a chance to perform community service, make restitution or seek therapy for addiction or behavioral problems. If the offender meets the agreed-upon obligations, he or she can avoid prosecution.

"Proponents assert that this approach provides satisfaction to the victim as well as to the community affected by the crime and prepares the offender for a crime-free future in ways the traditional punitive justice system does not," the grand jury said.

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