Groups: Discuss RJ City

Ask questions, propose corrections or additions, raise objections, propose programmes and generally comment on RJ City as presented in the Phase 1 Report.
Submitted by dan. on 2007-06-07 11:44.
Recommendations
The past few decades have seen the rise of two very different alternatives to the traditional criminal justice system: private police and restorative justice programs. These two approaches arise out of very different causes - the first is an effort by private citizens to obtain greater and more responsive crime control, and the second is a movement aimed at addressing the psychological needs of victims and perpetrators of crimes. Each of these approaches represents a revolutionary paradigm shift as to how criminal justice is administered in this country - and yet each of these movements has been limited in its impact on the current criminal justice system. The privatization movement has been restricted to the law enforcement stage of the criminal justice system, while the restorative justice movement has been dependent upon state support. The article's thesis is that it is only a matter of time before these two movements combine, thereby creating a viable private alternative to the public criminal justice system.

This is from the abstract of a journal article. Download the full document here.

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Submitted by dan. on 2007-05-30 11:06.
Questions
Note: This article's coverage may be more limited than the presentation, but two things are of interest. First, all the safety tips have to do with police activity or victim support after a crime. Second, only 12 people came to the session.

Barbara Hite, vice president of the West Bellfort Property Owners Association, who helped organize the special meeting, said this was the perfect time of year for everyone to get a refresher course on safety.

"Here comes the long, hot summer and we felt it would be ideal if May would address people and point out safety issues," she said. "We sometimes make ourselves the victims when we don't have to be."

Hite said she worries about the summer months in particular because students are out of school and some have "too much time on their hands and no one around to help them."

While only about a dozen residents turned out for the meeting, Walker said she hoped those who did would pass along the tips to their neighbors....

If someone is a victim of a "crime against a person" — and not property — they can call the victims service unit at 713-643-6773 to get assistance with everything from counseling to rent payments.

May also mentioned the Environmental Deputy Program, which helps residents get rid of things such as abandoned vehicles, graffiti and high weeds in a front yard. Residents should call the constable's office at 713-643-6118.

Sgt. Holland Jones discussed vacation watches and patrol alert forms residents can fill out to receive assistance.

Read it all.

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Submitted by dan. on 2007-05-24 14:17.
Programme ideas
Once a month, staff conduct an educational session for families who believe they may have a loved one that is experiencing domestic abuse. Victim advocates provide information and advice on how to intervene in a way that is helpful and supportive to victims. Additionally, staff provides training and consultation for employers on how to recognize and address domestic violence affecting the workplace. All of which are designed to keep people safe and to identify domestic violence cases before another tragedy occurs.

In the recent deaths of Leanne Paulsen of Carmel and Nupur Srivastava of Indianapolis, both of which resulted in murder charges, there's a common denominator: Family members suspected something was wrong and were not sure how to help. One of the things we have learned from victims is that sometimes family, friends and co-workers unwittingly add to their difficult situation. The subtle blaming and judging of the victim that sometimes occurs adds to the victim's shame forcing them further into isolation -- making them all the more vulnerable. Other times, family and friends do not feel comfortable in broaching the subject directly and keep their suspicions and concerns to themselves.

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Submitted by dan. on 2007-05-22 15:54.
Questions
If we think in terms of restorativeness when assessing programmes and practices, we can respond to problems (and even successes) by considering ways in which the intervention might be made more restorative. What might this look like.

Dear Friends,

I the first part of this letter I noted a news article in which a city official concluded that restorative justice was not working for juveniles charged with vandalism. The city had "tried to show [the vandals] the error of their ways and punish them by requiring community service."

"But one kid, we put him to work shoveling gravel and pulling weeds, and he treated the whole thing like it was a joke," Zuleger said. "He just walked around smirking and laughing. It didn't help him."

Using the four categories of questions I mentioned yesterday, let's see how this programme might be made more restorative.

1. How does this programme view crime and justice? The city's programme certainly takes seriously the harm done by the vandals to the community in general, and it attempts to help them understand it more immediately by requiring them to clean up after other vandals. But it does not reflect the individual harm to users of the park. Mr. Zuleger, the city official, noted that the real people harmed by the vandalism are little kids who want to use the park, but there is no indication that the vandals are confronted with those users and their parents so that they can discuss the human cost of the vandalism.

2. How is it oriented in terms of the community and the government? It appears that the programme is government-oriented. The vandals are ordered by government officials to perform the community service. There is no reported community involvement in the programme.

3. Are the processes inclusive? We have noted before that the actual victims are not included in determining what should happen with the vandals. We don't know what kind of offender involvement there is in determining the sentence, but it appears that this would be minimal. Creating a context in which regular users of the park were invited to meet with the juveniles -- with supporters of both victims and offenders invited as well -- would make the procedure much more inclusive and would generate a number of creative alternatives to community service.

4. What outcome is sought? According to Mr. Zuleger, the purpose of the programme is to clean up the part, save the city some money, and rehabilitate the offenders. There is no thought given to the individuals whose lives are affected by the vandalized parks, or to how their needs can be addressed. The offenders have not had the opportunity to develop empathy for those victims or to offer to make amends in appropriate ways.

There are undoubtedly other observations that could be made. But the above comments suggest that the restorativeness of the programme could be significantly increased by looking at more than the harm to the city, and by including individual community members who have been harmed by the actions of the vandals.

That suggests that a victim impact panel or, even better, a conference or circle would add a restorative dimension to the programme that would make it a more powerful intervention for the parties involved.

Let's stay in touch,

Dan

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Submitted by dan. on 2007-05-21 17:48.
Questions
If restorative justice is not a programme but rather a philosophy or set of values, then it is not useful to speak in terms of "having it" or "not having it." Instead, we would speak in terms of how restorative our programmes and processes are. How does one measure restorativeness?

Dear friends,

In my last letter I reflected on the comments sometimes made that a jurisdiction has already tried restorative justice, or that it has it already. Often this is in the context of explaining why it does not work. The problem with this is that it views restorative justice as a programme rather than a philosophy or a set of values.

If we adopt the idea that it is not a programme, then it is possible to speak in terms of degrees of restorativeness. When a restorative justice programme has not accomplished its purposes, we can ask whether the intervention or service was sufficiently restorative.

In developing RJ City, we needed to create measures of restorativeness that could be used to identify opportunities for improvement. We used two kinds of measures. The first was based on principles of restorative justice, and the second on its values (see Phase 1 Final Report, pp. 10-12).

How might we do that. Let's look at the assessment questions we might draw out of the definition and principles of restorative justice. Some of these, of course, will be more relevant to particular situations than others.

1. View of crime and justice.  Is crime understood to harm the community and the victim, or merely to transgress a criminal law?  Is the social harmfulness of the offence addressed and not merely the wrongdoing of the offender? Does it focus on the needs created by the offence? While recognizing the danger of crime, does it also focus on the opportunities for growth afforded by the chance to repair harm and find solutions? Does it recognize the relational as well as the public dimensions of crime?

2. Community/State orientation.  In a restorative response, state intervention provides a backdrop, or foundation, for extensive community involvement.  It serves as a safeguard and a safety net as necessary.  What is the Network’s community orientation?  Does it work to build community, allow community participation in decision-making, empower and enable the community, increase its capacity, and have a bias for responding locally?

3. Processes used.  Do the processes, as much as possible, include all parties, offer opportunities for constructive encounter, address the interests of all parties, ensure their physical, psychological and emotional safety and their voluntary participation, and encourage joint decision-making?

4. Outcomes sought and achieved. In the end, will people have been invited to identify and solve problems, made or received amends, had the opportunity to explain their experiences, learned the perspectives of the other parties, and become integrated back into the community?

Alternate statements of principles could certainly be used for this purpose, but you see how it becomes possible to think in terms of degrees of restorativeness, and therefore to assess programmes and practices more usefully than merely asking whether a programme is restorative or not. What difference would that make in the vandalism case discussed in Part 1? I will conclude with some observations about that tomorrow.

Let's stay in touch,

Dan Van Ness

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Submitted by dan. on 2007-05-18 16:08.
Questions
Many of us have had the experience of talking about restorative justice with someone who immediately says, "We already have that," and then goes on to describe a restitution or community service programme. It is almost as though people have a checklist of innovations, and they have ticked the box for restorative justice.

Dear Friends,

In a news article this morning, a city official says that restorative justice is not working. Faced with chronic vandalism by juveniles in a park, the city had "tried to show [the vandals] the error of their ways and punish them by requiring community service."

"But one kid, we put him to work shoveling gravel and pulling weeds, and he treated the whole thing like it was a joke," Zuleger said. "He just walked around smirking and laughing. It didn't help him."

He concluded that they would have to turn to increased fines imposed on the juveniles and on their parents as well. "If these rules are adopted, one incident can cost parents $500 in fines and thousands more in restitution."

Of course, Mr. Zuleger does not have a very developed understanding of restorative justice. He not only thinks of it as a single programme -- community service -- but he also considers it a penalty designed to help kids go straight. His conclusion that restoration doesn't work leads to his proposal to dust off (and increase) financial penalties, and to apply them to parents as well as children.

For some reason people understand that there are degrees of punitiveness but don't in terms of restorativeness. Politicians announce that they will get tough by increasing prison sentences, or by making sure that people who are now sentenced to probation go to prison instead.

But people don't typically think about restorativeness. Something is either restorative or not. This is even true of those of us who promote restorative justice. When confronted with the Mr. Zulegers of the world we insist that community service, restitution and other potentially restorative outcomes are NOT restorative justice at all. We then add that victim-offender encounters ARE restorative. We may understand the complexities, but to Mr. Zuleger we have merely substituted one programme for another.

There are a number of advantages to thinking in terms of restorativeness. One is that our restorative efforts can always be improved. Another is that we can respond restoratively even when victim-offender encounters are not possible (as, for example, when the offender has not been caught). A third is that we can begin at just about any point in the criminal justice system and consider ways it might be changed in a restorative direction. Finally, it opens up the option of incremental change, which may be critical to the acceptance of restorative justice.

What does it mean for something to become more or less restorative? How do we measure restorativeness? We'll take a look at that on Monday.

Let's stay in touch,

Dan Van Ness

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Submitted by dan. on 2007-05-17 11:32.
Programme ideas
The recent shootings at Virginia Tech raised a number of continuing questions about how to inform students (at universities), workers (at businesses) and presumably other members of large groups about crises as they happen.

collegewebeditor.com has posted a number of screenshots of the VA Tech website homepage as it appeared throughout the crisis. In RJ City, there probably ought to be a coordinated approach to use of websites for crisis management at schools, businesses and communities.

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Submitted by dan. on 2007-05-16 13:00.
Victim impact statements serve an important role in allowing victims a voice in the criminal justice system. But it is a limited voice, as several recent news articles remind us.

Dear Friends,

The opportunity to make a victim impact statement, the brainchild of Fresno, California Chief Probation Officer Jim Rowland in 1976, has become an important part of victim support and advocacy around the world. It offers an opportunity for victims or survivors to make a statement about how they have been affected by crime. It adds a brief reminder in a hearing focused on the offender that a victim was harmed by the offender's actions.

As a reform, victim impact statements have been grafted into a system whose focus is the offender. As such, there is conceptual confusion about what they mean in that system. Should the judge take the statement into account while sentencing? If so, does that place an offender whose victim is determined and articulate at a disadvantage compared to a similar offenders whose victim makes no statement? What if the victim is forgiving, or retributive -- how should this influence the judge?

Often legal or procedural rules are developed to allow the victim to speak without putting the defendant at an unfair advantage during this critical hearing. The judge, for example, may be given discretion to decide whether to allow the victim impact statement to be presented at all. In an Illinois case, the family of a 13-year-old who was struck and disabled by a drunk driver was permitted to submit a written statement but not to make a verbal statement in court. The judge's explanation was that "the girl is the victim", not the family.

The relevant statute gives victims the right to submit impact statements in writing to the prosecutor that must be considered by the judge at sentencing. It also requires judges to allow victims to make oral statements at the sentencing hearing, but relatives the victims may only request that the judge allow them to make their statements. So the judge's statement, while insensitive, was legally accurate.

In one of today's news stories, the son of a murdered teacher has been told that he may not submit his victim impact statement in New Zealand courts unless he cuts out portions that exceed provisions of the victim rights statute. That statute says that victims may speak of the physical or emotional impact of the crime as well as of property damage or loss. It does not permit personal statements about the offender or recommendations concerning the sentence.

The son, when told that such statements are inappropriate, asked, "Is murder appropriate?...Because a victim can't say what he wants, seems to say that murder is OK."

His frustration and that of the family of the Illinois girl are understandable. They illustrate the difficulty of accommodating victim interests into a system whose focus in the offender.

To really give victims a voice, they must be given a forum in which their opinion is relevant to the purpose and outcome of the hearing. Direct communication with offenders in some way gives victims the opportunity to say what they think of the offenders. While this needs to be done respectfully (see pages 15-16 of the RJ City Phase 1 final report), the statement can still be forceful, direct and difficult for the offender to hear.

This is one more reason we need many more opportunities for restorative encounters. Another reason we need to build RJ City.

Let's stay in touch,

Dan Van Ness

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Submitted by dan. on 2007-05-16 11:20.
Questions
The son of murdered Tokoroa school teacher Lois Dear is outraged he cannot tell her killer exactly what he thinks of him... . He admits it contains some strong sentiments about Te Hiko and the judicial system, but he says Te Hiko needs to know he thinks of him.

However, victim impact statement guidelines state that personal remarks about the offender, or recommending a sentence, are inappropriate.

"Is murder appropriate?...Because a victim can't say what he wants, seems to say that murder is OK," says McNeil.

Police have asked McNeil to rewrite his statement four times, and Victim Support has admitted it suggested McNeil soften his statement.

Victim Support chief executive Maree Knight says the Victim Rights' Act sets out very clearly what can and cannot be said. She says all a statement can refer to is the physical or emotional impact of the crime, or any loss or damage to property.

Knight says because it is a court document it has to contain fact and not opinion.

"When they're getting into opinion or comment about the judicial or the police system, we say that's not appropriate for this document, and perhaps we can reword it," she says.

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Submitted by dan. on 2007-05-16 10:57.
Questions
Both common law and continental law systems base civil liability on the compensatory principal: The victim of a wrongful act should be made whole by the restitution of compensatory damages. However, most common law jurisdictions recognize the mechanism of punitive or exemplary damages, which reward the victim over and above the amount of the actual loss.

A discussion has been going on, both in common law and continental law countries, regarding the legitimacy of the presence of a repressive institution in the civil process, given that the latter does not guarantee the same protection to the defendant as the criminal process.

Furthermore, the point has been made that punitive damages endanger the respect of the non bis in idem and nullum crimen sine lege, nulla poena sine lege principals. Moreover, punitive damages constitute, according to the critics, an unjust enrichment of the plaintiff.

On the other hand, an economic analysis of law shows that certain situations can incite the tortfeasor to commit a wrongful act each time that the benefits of an efficient breach of one’s obligations are superior to the costs of a trial and compensatory damages.

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