The concept of restorative justice (RJ) holds that when a crime is committed, the offender incurs an obligation to restore the victim, and by extension the community, to the state of well being that existed before the offense.
On June 7, 2011, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper signed into law
HB-1032 which expands the use of restorative justice in the Colorado justice system and encourages its use in the state's school systems.
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.
In 1999 the General Assembly of the State of Colorado declared its support of this philosophy through the passage of Bill 99-1156: where the assembly's intent is to provide a system of juvenile justice that will "provide the opportunity to bring together affected victims, the community and juvenile offenders for restorative approaches."
On March 31, 2008, Colorado Governor Bill Ritter signed into law House Bill 08-1117, which authorizes the use of restorative justice (RJ) in the state's Children's Code and gives Colorado the legislative edge among states that sanction the use of RJ. The bill passed 63-1 in the House and 33-0 in the Senate.
What does "restorative" mean?
Traditionally when a crime is committed, the justice system has been primarily concerned with three questions:
- Who did it?
- What laws were broken?
- What should be done to punish or treat the offender?
This type of approach is considered retributive, where the intent is to get retribution or punishment for an offense committed.
Restorative justice programs emphasize three very different questions:
- What is the nature of the harm resulting from the crime?
- What needs to be done to "make it right" or repair the harm?
- Who is responsible for this repair?
This approach is restorative, where the intent is to restore the community affected by the crime as close as possible to pre-crime conditions.
Restorative justice also suggests that the response to youth crime must strike a balance among the needs of victims, offenders and communities and that each should be actively involved in the justice process.
The term "restorative conferencing" refers to a range of processes that bring together victims, offenders and community members into face-to-face meetings aimed at responding to crime by holding offenders accountable and repairing the harm caused to victims and communities.
Some of these programs/strategies are currently being implemented in some areas of the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and parts of Europe.