Juvenile crimes, while serious, are always sensitive and often complex issues that don’t usually receive the specific attention they need. More importantly, they often aren’t dealt with an ounce of humanity. Colorado communities are hoping to change that.
A juvenile restorative justice pilot program is placing victims and offenders together to have constructive and often effective conversations before filing charges in court. As of June of last year, 89 juveniles had rectified their crimes, 69 were still in the process of reaching agreements, and only three were deemed failures. Of those who rectify potential charges with their victims, the recidivism rate is less than 10 percent.
With it’s obvious success, the pilot programs has been introduced in almost a dozen Colorado counties, with a 2013 bill introduced by Rep. Pete Lee, D-Colorado Springs and Sen. Linda Newell, D-Littleton that set aside over half a million dollars for the implementation of said programs as well as the collection of their data. In Boulder County alone, there is up to 680 juvenile cases yearly.
The need for these restorative justice programs is key in helping juveniles stay out of the criminal justice system. Having a criminal history could have potential implications on a juvenile offender’s future, whether it’s applying for college, joining the military, or establishing a career. Additionally, these programs give the offenders the opportunity to take responsibility for their actions and repair the harm done to their victims directly, as opposed to attempting to make a plea bargain or simply living in fear in a juvenile corrections facility.
Rep. Pete Lee stressed that the induction of his and Newell’s bill will insure equality to all offenders; that means minorities and at-risk juveniles will have the same access to the program as affluent suburban youth. The continued data collection will also include information on the age, gender, and race of the offenders as well as the degree of their crime.
“Part of the purpose of the restorative justice pilot program was to develop evidence of the effectiveness in order to make it more appealing to district attorneys, prosecutors and public defenders so it will feel more mainstream,” Lee said. “I want to make restorative justice the first and viable alternative for offenses.”
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