Community Restorative Courts
REPAIR HARM REDUCE RISK REBUILD COMMUNITY
No. There is no municipal or criminal judge assigned to the community restorative court. The community, partnering with the anchor stakeholders and CRC coordinator will help move approved misdemeanor level offenses out of the formal court system and into a harm reparation process for the impacted community.
Restorative justice practices see crime as more than breaking the law—it looks to the harm done to the people, relationships and community. Restorative justice practices require the cooperation and collaboration of the community and the government. Restorative justice focuses on healing the injury caused by harm, balancing effective services for victims and when appropriate, the offender.
Restorative justice programs exist all over the United States and across the world. Canada, New Zealand, Austria, Japan and several other European nations practice forms of restorative justice. Dane County’s Community Restorative Court takes after successful examples in Red Hook, San Francisco’s Community Justice Center, and Baltimore’s Community Conferencing Center.
Research on restorative justice has found that: a) victims who meet with their offenders are far more likely to be satisfied with the justice system’s response to their case than those who go through the normal justice process; b) after meeting the offender, victims are significantly less fearful of being re-victimized; c) offenders who meet with their victim are far more likely to complete their restitution obligation to the victim; and d) considerably fewer and less serious future crimes are committed by offenders who meet their victim.
The Dane County CRC has 5 goals:
Efficient case resolution. Participants can have a case resolved more quickly than in the criminal courts.
Community-driven solutions. The community that is affected by the crime gets to direct the plan for repairing the harm.
Reduce burden on criminal courts. The Dane Count CRC has the potential to significantly save both time and money for criminal courts and the agencies that work in them.
Reduce recidivism. By keeping low-level offenders out of the traditional system—and keeping convictions off their record (and off CCAP), the community court removes an obstacle to meaningful participation in the community. As individuals gain a true understanding of the impacts of their actions, they may be less likely to reoffend.
Reduce racial disparities in the criminal justice system.
The Dane County CRC will handle non-domestic violence related misdemeanor level offenses.
Studies in neuroscience have shown that a young person’s cognitive development continues into this later stage and that their emotional maturity, self-image and judgment will be affected until the prefrontal cortex of the brain has full developed (guidelines currently state age 25). Many members of the community have anecdotally or personally witnessed brain development after the age of maturity.
South Madison was chosen because it is a community of strength—with strong community anchor organizations, strong resident involvement, and police commitment to restorative justice principles. An additional reason for choosing this location as the first site is the misdemeanor frequency in the 17-25 year old age group. Community collaboration is a critical piece of the initial set-up and will follow equity and social justice for community engagement best practices.
The Community Restorative Court will accept referrals from different stakeholders within the justice system, including the district attorney, members of the community, and law enforcement personnel.
Even for perceived “victimless crimes,” such as drug offenses, there is a significant harm done to the community. In cases like these, members of the community sit in as victims in a conferencing circle to speak about how the crime has affected their community.