In the last in a series of stories on crime victims, Mark Obbie writes in Slate about the story of a 35-year-old program called Genesee Justice in upstate New York, once “a radical experiment in the systemic application of restorative justice.” The restorative justice movement nationwide fell far short of what its supporters had hoped for, Obbie says. In theory, it offers a clear alternative to the policies driving mass incarceration. It has a good track record “for treating victims and offenders alike with a compassion that allows people to move on constructively and productively.”
Yet restorative justice, in which offenders perform community service in lieu of jail, is barely mentioned in today's criminal justice reform debate and has never accomplished much more than to chip small chinks out of the U.S. prison and jail system. Budget cuts have reduced Genesee Justice’s services. Former director Ed Minardo says, “Genesee Justice is still in existence, but it's significantly hindered if not crippled in terms of its capability of providing the robust services that we once were on course to be able to be providing.” He says that a “stripped-down” Genesee Justice is better than a plan to divvy up its remains among other agencies, but the agency's glory days are behind it.