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Real Stories, Real People: Program Offers Victims Solace, Second Chance for Offenders

Longmont Community Justice Project (LCJP), based in Colorado, uses restorative processes to provide alternatives for victims, offenders, and the community. This article describes one case handled through the programme, the reasons why the victims chose the restorative process over court, and the outcomes of the case.

Five teens stole a bottle of wine from Burt and Kim Miller’s garage. Kim Miller saw them drive away, wrote down the license plate and called the police.

Instead of pressing theft charges when officers arrested the kids, the Millers opted to spend four hours in a room with the teens on a recent Saturday.

It was a long, slightly tense session, but Burt Miller said he donated his time so the kids could make positive contributions through the Longmont Community Justice Partnership, rather than deal with a criminal record for the rest of their lives.

“We didn’t want them to be a number in the system,” Burt Miller said. “God forbid one of my kids ever ends up in that situation.”

Founded in 1996, the nonprofit LCJP has helped about 800 offenders mediate with victims instead of being slapped with a criminal record, according to program director Beverly Title.

Police officers or judges can recommend an offender of any age for the program, Title said.

“The only requirement we have ... is willingness to be accountable for your behavior,” she said.

The Millers, who do not drink alcohol very often, weren’t terribly upset about the bottle of wine that was stolen in October, according to Burt Miller. The bottle came from a New Year’s Eve party in 2003.

“The kids probably would have gotten sick on it,” he said.

However, having someone enter their garage and steal something in the middle of the afternoon did rattle the Millers a bit.

“We don’t leave our garage door open now,” Burt Miller said. “It used to be a situation where ... some of my closer neighbor friends could come over any time and grab a hammer off my desk. Now that doesn’t happen.”

The mother of one offender, who asked her name not be used, said the session was an eye-opener for the teens.

During the “restorative justice” session, the Millers said they were hesitant to bring charges against the kids in part because they feared the offenders would retaliate, said the offender’s mother.

“When (the teens) realized how much fear they put into somebody, it really hit home,” the mother said.

After discussing how the crime hurt the community, the group — which consisted of the Millers, the teens and their parents and several local volunteers — talked about how the teens should pay back the community.

The teens opted to participate in sports after school each day and to volunteer time to Habitat for Humanity.

Most offenders must also repay the victim, but Burt Miller said he wasn’t interested in that part of the program.

“We didn’t want them mowing our lawn or washing our cars. We didn’t really want anything from them,” he said. “We wanted them to impact the community and impact themselves and start building back trust.”
 

For more information on Longmont Community Justice Project see http://www.lcjp.org/index.html

For the original story see http://www.longmontfyi.com/Local-Story.asp?id=482


March 2005 

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