Considering a referral
What are the basic criteria for referral?
- The victim is willing to have the case come to us instead of pressing charges or letting the offender be summonsed.
- The offender is admitting the wrongdoing. (They may not understand the full ripple effects of the harm. That’s OK. Such understanding will emerge in the process.)
- We can be reasonably sure of a safe process. If there are physical or emotional risks, we may return the case to you.
Do victims have to participate directly in the “circle” process?
No. Victims can allow the case to come to us and also elect NOT to participate or to participate indirectly (e.g., stating preferences for a community service site or asking for a letter of apology). We can represent their views and needs if they cannot or do not wish to be present.
What should I say to the victim before referring a case?
Your department may set guidelines for this conversation but we recommend that you say, “This case may be referred to a nonprofit organization with whom we partner called C4RJ. You’ll have a chance to say how you’ve been affected and ask for direct repair. You’ll be hearing from C4RJ in the days ahead.” We also encourage you to give them the C4RJ leave-behind piece.
What should I say to the offender before referring a case?
Your department may set guidelines on this conversation but we recommend that you conduct the investigation as if the case were proceeding to court. At the time of the incident, if you think the case might be a good fit, you can say, “This case may be referred to a nonprofit organization with whom we partner called C4RJ. You’ll be asked to take responsibility and make repair to those who’ve been affected. You’ll be hearing from C4RJ in the days ahead.” We suggest that you not promise a referral since other issues could arise that would make referral inappropriate. We also encourage you to give them the C4RJ leave-behind piece.
It may also be useful to mention that C4RJ requires a $250 participation fee of offenders accepting referral. We have a sliding scale for those who cannot afford the payment, and we also offer payment plans.
The offender admits s/he did it, but doesn’t seem remorseful. Is that OK?
Yes. It’s very common for offenders to “admit” they did something but not own up fully or even show regret. They may feel as though they are the victims by virtue of being caught. Most of the time, we see these attitudes dissipate during the process, especially once the individual has been able to see: (a) how others were affected; and (b) that they are going to have a chance to be heard and to make amends—and avoid being stigmatized as a bad person. As you know, most of us, when we do something wrong, make excuses. Getting past that is the work of the circle process and the period after.
What if the offender has a “bad attitude”?
Restorative justice is not just for offenders with “good attitudes” or who’ve been exemplary citizens. RJ isn’t a means for doling out favors – in fact, offering restorative justice to one offender but referring another to court under the same circumstances may prompt accusations of favoritism or bias.
Further, the victim may still want the opportunity to speak with the offender even if the offender has “mouthed off” to you or been unpleasant. We will do our best to ensure that the victim is not revictimized by a bad attitude. We deal with this by meeting ahead of time – perhaps several times – with the offender and supporters.
What if the offender has been in trouble before?
Each department will decide what its referral criteria are, but re-offense or a “frequent flyer” status is not a barrier from C4RJ’s point of view. In some instances, the supports we offer, an encounter with those affected by harm, and close supervision, may help produce an outcome different from that of the court, and a change in the offender’s outlook. We can’t guarantee that, but prosecution is always an option if our process doesn’t work.
In some instances, offenders who have appeared in court for previous offenses have been excellent participants in restorative justice, fulfilling all obligations.
The offender is such a nice person and is already upset. Won’t restorative justice just make it worse for him/her?
The victim and others affected may need the opportunity to speak with the offender, regardless of how bad the offender feels. Beyond that, making amends may be just what this offender needs in order to feel s/he can reclaim some self-worth. Further, s/he will likely benefit from the support of the circle and from working with our trained volunteers.
What if the offender isn’t owning up?
If he or she isn’t admitting his or her role, you wouldn’t refer to us. But if they have engaged in a circle and aren’t living up to commitments or if they just aren’t really taking personal responsibility (they’re blaming someone else or making excuses), we can reconvene the circle or return the case to you. This happens, but rarely.
How does C4RJ try to ensure a safe process?
We hold most circles in police departments. And we always include an officer in the circle. It’s up to the department or individual officer whether to attend in uniform and/or armed. Part of our intake process is to help us gauge whether an offender will be able to engage appropriately in the circle. In many cases, we seek an evaluation beforehand with a qualified therapist.
We’ve already made an arrest or requested a summons. Is it too late to consider restorative justice?
No. RJ can be offered at various stages, including post-complaint. C4RJ has hosted successful circles:
- As a condition of a plea agreement
- As part of juvenile diversion contracts
- While a clerk or judge held a charge pending completion of a restorative agreement
Restorative justice has also been used post-conviction to allow dialogue between incarcerated individuals (including those convicted of murder) and victims.
I’m the school resource officer in my town, and I have an incident that occurred in the school. Is restorative justice an option?
Yes, we often work with schools, with both criminal incidents and other wrongdoing. We hold circles in schools if that makes it easier for the parties involved.
Who will my contact be during the process?
C4RJ is organized in teams, led by one or two case coordinators. For each case, your contact(s) will be the case coordinators who have been assigned the case, and they will provide you with their contact information. You are also welcome to be in touch with C4RJ staff at 978.318.3447.
The circle process
Who is included in a circle?
- Offenders supporters (family members, close friends or colleagues)
- Victim supporters
- Police officer
- 2-4 C4RJ personnel, including one who will lead the circle and those who will work with the offender and victim after the circle while the restorative agreement is being fulfilled
- Concerned community members
We prefer smaller (6 to 10 people) to larger circles, but in instances in which multiple people have been involved and a victim wants to participate in just one circle, we may include more people.
Where are circles typically convened and how long do they last?
We prefer to meet in the police department of the jurisdiction where the offense occurred because it underscores the seriousness of the process and our partnership with you. But there may be times in which a meeting at the PD is inappropriate, such as these rare circumstances:
- The victim prefers a different location for convenience or comfort
- The number of persons involved would make it difficult to accommodate a circle in the PD’s available space. In this case, we look for facilities in the town in which we can meet and still protect privacy.
Does the responding officer in a case have to be the officer who sits in the circle?
No. It’s great to have the reporting officer there, in part to carry forward the thread of the relationships that may have started with the incident. But in many instances, a department’s scheduling makes that impossible. If that’s the case, we ask that the officer who will participate seek a briefing ahead of time by the responding officer.
Restorative justice data and results
What evidence is there that restorative justice works?
C4RJ has a recidivism rate of just 16%. In addition to this measure, we also track participant satisfaction rates. Victim satisfaction rates hover at 90-92%. Some 80% to 85% of offenders report they are satisfied. Hundreds of similar programs around the country and the world have documented similar success.
Does restorative justice ever fail?
Sometimes those responsible aren’t ready to be held accountable, or they may not be ready to take concrete steps toward repair. That said, it is seldom that we have to return a case to the referring partner because offenders aren't fulfilling their obligations.
I hear restorative justice is soft on crime. Won’t this encourage offenders and would-be offenders to think they’re going to “get off easy”?
Recently, a judge observed that we “work” offenders a lot harder in our program than most judges and the District Attorney's office do in their sentences and diversion agreements. Once a young offender remarked, “If I’d known I had to do this much, I might have gone to court!” (We don’t think his parents would have agreed!)
Whereas, generally, an offender goes to court once or twice and may see a probation officer periodically, offenders in our program have contact with one of our trained facilitators weekly, usually in person, over two to three months. Meetings focus on decision-making, habits of thinking, and developing empathy. Facilitators are also checking to ensure the offender is pursuing other obligations made in the restorative agreement, sometimes including community service, apologies, and any therapeutic or educational programs specified.
Does restorative justice always lead to forgiveness?
No. We stress that forgiveness is not a requirement of this process. Victims need not offer it. Offenders should not ask for it since it might well place an additional obligation on the victim. If forgiveness comes about as part of the process, great. If not, that’s OK too. The process we offer is about accountability and repair. If you speak with a victim who is not in a posture of forgiveness in the wake of harm suffered, that’s OK. The process may yield important information or answers for them.
What oversight is there for C4RJ?
C4RJ is governed by a Board of Directors, and advised by our Police Council, a quarterly gathering of liaisons from each of our partnering departments. All C4RJ policies are vetted by the Police Council and approved by the Board. As a 501(c)(3), C4RJ also reports to state and federal bodies charged with regulation of nonprofit organizations.