A new program used by judges and prosecutors in Kentucky is changing lives, saving tax dollars

By Quin Welch, Building Kentucky

As judges and prosecutors seek new ways to institute justice and protect their communities, one program is steadily growing and becoming a more beneficial option for all involved.

Restorative Justice provides a facilitated process for individuals harmed by crime or wrongdoing to meet with the person(s) who caused the harm so they can negotiate their own resolution and address the harm outside of traditional systems, including the courtroom. County Attorney Joe White has used the program in Clay County and has been impressed with what it does for everyone involved in the process of seeking justice, whether they were harmed or caused the harm.

“Restorative Justice allows us to take a situation where we have a willing juvenile defendant and a willing victim to take it out of the run-of-the-mill prosecution and put it into a situation that is customized,” White said. “It results in the improvement of lives.”

The program is voluntary and both persons harmed and those who caused the harm must agree to take part in the process, which begins with a meeting between the two parties. The person harmed can explain how the offense affected them and what needs to be done to repair the harm caused by the offender.

Both parties then work together to determine a course of action that allows offenders to not only fully understand the gravity of their actions, but also to make amends for what they’ve done. For instance, a young person who breaks into a convenience store and steals money from the cash register might pay the stolen money back to the store owner and work at the store for a period of time to remedy his or her actions.

“Restorative Justice is a program that we have in our community that allows us to give options to juvenile offenders that we haven’t been able to before,” said Haley Fields, Assistant Clay County Attorney.

Naysayers claim that Restorative Justice does not hold those who cause harm accountable for their actions, and because of that, those people are as likely – or more likely – to commit similar acts. However, studies show that Restorative Justice cuts the recidivism rate by more than half for every youth who participates.

Additionally, Restorative Justice is much less expensive than sending a young person to jail. The cost for every youth who enters the Restorative Justice process is one-third the cost for a youth in the traditional criminal justice system. Because the program helps participants avoid the criminal justice system altogether, taxpayers save money and communities are able to make greater investments in parks, education, public safety and more.

“This (Restorative Justice) saves taxpayers money, but more than that, it makes our community a better place because we have less crime going forward, and that’s really what we’re striving for,” Fields said.

The Volunteers of America Mid-States are working diligently to spread the word about how Restorative Justice can change lives throughout the Commonwealth of Kentucky. To learn more about Restorative Justice, visit voamid.org/services/restorative-justice.

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