35 States Encourage Restorative Justice As Prison Alternative

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Many places are turning to restorative justice as an alternative to prosecution and possible imprisonment. Instead of fighting the charges in court, offenders selected for restorative justice agree to accept responsibility for their actions, meet face-to-face with victims, and come up with a plan to repair the harm they’ve caused, Stateline reports. Some places are using the strategy with adults, incorporating it into their probation for those who avoid prison time. Thirty-five states have adopted legislation encouraging the use of restorative justice for children and adults both before and after prison, though many local law enforcement departments have for years relied on local nonprofits to perform the sessions without an official blessing from the state.

As states step back from mass incarceration, restorative justice is becoming more widespread and formalized. Last year West Virginia funded restorative justice and other alternatives to incarceration in the juvenile justice system. Some states, such as Vermont and Colorado, have passed laws that encourage the strategy statewide by creating agencies that oversee or even provide the service. Restorative justice is based on practices from indigenous cultures, and many schools have used it as an alternative to suspension and a way to help students think through the consequences of their actions. After a series of meetings to prepare both sides, a “circle” takes place in which both parties get a chance to talk about the crime, what motivated it and how they were affected. The parties agree on a way the offender can repair the harm he’s caused, and this is overseen by the group’s facilitator, who ultimately reports to the probation office.


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