Friday, April 19, 2002
Restorative justice program explored
The Concord Police Department and volunteers from the town of Concord have cosponsored the Concord Restorative Circle, which they describe as "an alternative method to deal with incidents that cause offense to an individual or to the community," since May 1999. All participants, police, community volunteers, victims of crime and the offenders, consider the Circle a successful alternative to the traditional courtroom method of punishing the offender, neglecting the victim, and ignoring the needs of the community. Last April 3, the Circle sponsors presented a panel discussion about the Circle program to almost 100 community and regional representatives of police, church and community groups interested in the program. The panel was chaired by Chuck Campbell and included Concord Police Chief Leonard Wetherbee and coordinating volunteers Jean Bell and Joan Hunter.
How the Circle works
The Circle process starts with the Concord Police. When an incident of wrongdoing occurs in the town and the perpetrator acknowledges his/her role in the incident, if the police department determines that the best interests of the victim(s), the offender(s) and the community will be served by a referral to the Circle program, the case is given to the coordinators for evaluation. The coordinators then present the Circle option separately to the victim and the offender. If they choose to participate, the Circle process begins. A trained volunteer, called a facilitator, meets individually with each person involved. At this point, all meetings are separate and a full group does not come together until the formal Circle meeting. If many individuals are involved, e.g. a group of youths bashing a number of mailboxes, the meeting can be large but the individual preliminary work, which discusses and vents feelings and explores possible resolutions and appropriate amends, helps focus the final, formal Circle.
During the actual Circle meeting, with everyone and the facilitator present, there is also a representative from the police department and any community representative that might be involved, as well as parents, if the offender is a juvenile. Two volunteers called "keepers" are in charge. A police officer summarizes the case as stated in police reports. The victim(s) then makes an initial statement, and then the offender(s) have an opportunity to speak and clarify what happened, to help come to a concensus on what would constitute a successful resolution. If concensus is not reached at the first Circle, another meeting is scheduled. All facts about the case and the meeting are confidential. A list of guidelines for the meeting is available for each participant. The final step is for the keepers to summarize what has been agreed to and a final contract is drawn up. Contracts often call for the offenders to repair and/or pay for damages, and perform community service. Follow-up is done by the facilitators, and a final meeting is scheduled when the terms of the contract have been met. If the contract isn't met, the case goes back to the court system, with a hearing, trial and sentence and the certainty of a record.
Participants are enthusiastic
The Concord Police and the community volunteers are enthusiastic about the success of the program so far. One participant said, "The more time I spend in this program, the more I believe in it and the value of it." One of the offenders said "I felt I was forgiven and it has made all the difference in my life."
Despite positive results with the six cases the Circle has worked through so far, both Joan Hunter and Jean Bell want to continue to take it slowly and carefully, and to maintain the quality of volunteer training. They, and Wetherbee, are interested in working with drug and alcohol offenders in the future, and adapting the present format for those kinds of cases.
© 2002 The Carlisle Mosquito