The Case of Colorado
The state of Colorado has been on a progressive path to implement systematic reform integrating restorative justice policies and practices. The legislature has comprehensively incorporated restorative justice in its Children’s Code through its legislative intent and in its Victim’s Rights Act. In addition, ideological principles and practices are further developed and expanded relating to youth, schools, adults, and prisons.
The legislative intent of the state’s Children’s Code is “to protect, restore and improve the public safety by creating a system of juvenile justice that will appropriately sanction juveniles who violate the law, and, in certain cases, will also provide the opportunity to bring together affected victims, the community and juvenile offenders for restorative purposes.” The juvenile justice system considers the best interests of the youth, the victim and the community in order to provide the appropriate treatment. The code also prioritizes assisting youth with reintegration so as to become productive members of society and reducing recidivism rates while holding community safety paramount (CRS 19-2-102).
Further, restorative justice is clearly defined in Colorado’s statute as “those practices that emphasize repairing the harm to the victim and the community caused by criminal acts. Restorative justice practices may include victim-offender conferences, attended voluntarily by the victim, a victim advocate, the offender, community members and supporters of the victim or the offender, for the offender to accept responsibility for the harm caused to those affected by the crime and to participate in setting consequences to repair the harm. Consequences recommended by the participants may include, but need not be limited to apologies, community service, restoration, and counseling. The selected consequences are incorporated into all agreement that sets time limits for completion of the consequences and is signed by all parties (CRS 19-1-103).” 1
A number of practices have been implemented in order to support the restorative strategies. Restorative dialogue, for example, is initiated by staff with youth on a regular basis and as needed. Staff facilitate a discussion with youth about the incident, responsibility and steps to make things right. Other practices that are implemented include: restorative chats, circles, restorative resolution or mediation, restorative conferences, and victim offender dialogue. Positive assessments, such as, accountability, competencies, volunteering, and repairing harm, are also in place as part of the facilitation of these practices and the review of the youth’s status. 2
The City of Longmont, Colorado is part of a self-funding, regional Restorative Justice Pilot Project. Adult and youth facilitators from schools and law enforcement are trained to facilitate programs under the auspices of the Longmont Community Justice Partnership. The recidivism rate as of January 2014 is 8 percent compared with local and national averages of up to 70 percent for programs that do no institute restorative justice processes. This project has also received federal funding to support continued success with its low recidivism rates. 3
1. Pavelka, S., “Restorative Justice in the States: A National Assessment of Legislation and Policy,” Justice Policy Journal, 13(2), 2016.
2. Rubin, H. Ted. (2016). Restorative juvenile within and throughout Colorado’s juvenile correctional agency. Juvenile Justice Update 21(6), pp. 1-16.
3. Rowan, Molly L. and Sandra Pavelka. (2014, March 2). The political rise of restorative justice. The Huffington Post, Retrieved January 8, 2016, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/molly-rowan-leach/the-political-rise-of- res_b_5029413.html.