Saturday, March 21, 2015

Restorative Justice Comes To The Burg--Will Rockingham County Sign On Next?

DNR photo
This is almost too good to be true.

That was my initial feeling at the press conference Wednesday announcing the Harrisonburg Police Department's new focus on restorative justice alternatives. We were told that HPD officers are being trained to divert cases to an RJ process whenever possible, and that JMU, EMU and the Harrisonburg City schools are also making efforts at implementing this kind of restitution-focused policy.

Local Commonwealth's Attorney Marsha Garst, in an impassioned speech that got more applause than any that morning, said (twice), "I support this program 100%". To me it was amazing to hear her, along with the presidents of JMU and EMU, Sue Prail of the Fairfield Center, JMU Associate Dean Josh Bacon, Carl Stauffer of the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, Police Chief Stephen Monticelli and Lieut. Kurt Boshart all speaking from the same lectern and being on the same page.

Dr. Howard Zehr of EMU's Center For Justice And Peacebuilding, explains the concept of restorative justice this way:

"Recognizing that punishment is often ineffective, restorative justice aims at helping offenders to recognize the harm they have caused and encouraging them to repair the harm, to the extent it is possible. Rather than obsessing about whether offenders get what they deserve, restorative justice focuses on repairing the harm of crime and engaging individuals and community members in the process."

My prayer is that the County Sheriff's department will now develop a similar initiative, and that together with faith communities, schools and other service providers and agencies, we can create the kind of approach to criminal justice that can be a model for communities everywhere.

And in which, in the words of the prophet Amos, "justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream."

Here's a link to some other posts on criminal justice reform.
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