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Aurora ponders ‘restorative justice’ program

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David Heitz
David Heitz
Tingey Injury Law Firm/Unsplash

Restorative justice, a program where the courts help victims and offenders come to an amicable resolution after a crime, may be coming to Aurora.

While this example may sound like an episode of “Leave it to Beaver,” imagine some teenagers playing softball outside. One connects on the ball and sends it right through the window of a house.

In a restorative justice model, the offender would be made to apologize for the broken window. He would be expected to pay for the replacement window, too.

But why adopt this new way of punishing offenders?

Restorative justice focuses on victims

In a resolution, the city lists several reasons for creating a restorative justice program. “Restorative justice is a victim-focused, community-based approach for responding to crime which focuses on restoring the victim by addressing a criminal act in the context of the people harmed,” according to a resolution the city will consider Monday.

“Restorative Justice holds offenders accountable for their actions by allowing an opportunity to make amends to their victims,” the resolution continues. “Restorative Justice provides benefits to victims of crimes including the ability of the victim to communicate how they were harmed as well as recovery of both material loss and the sense of security.”

Data shows that offenders who participate in restorative justice programs have lower recidivism rates. That in part could be because the offender gets to personally apologize for their offense.

The Aurora City Council will discuss Monday whether to issue a request for proposals. It's the first step toward hiring a consultant to develop a restorative justice plan for the city. They will hear from Kathleen McGoey, CEO of McGoey and Associates, Inc. and Tobias Plucinski, a Longmont Police officer.

Consultant expanded Longmont program

McGoey spearheaded expansion of restorative justice practices from 2013 to 2021 at Longmont Community Justice Partnership in Colorado. Kathleen launched Kathleen McGoey & Associates, Inc. in April 2021 “to focus on training and consultation in restorative justice with emphasis on police partnerships, as well as the application of restorative practices beyond the justice and school settings,” according to the staff report. “Kathleen has delivered training to youth, law enforcement agencies, educators, district attorneys, volunteers, and community agencies throughout the nation.”

McGoey has her master’s degree in International Peace and Conflict Studies from the University of Innsbruck, Austria. She recently wrote her second book, “The Little Book of Restorative Teaching Tools” (Good Books, 2020).

Plucinski also will address the council Monday. “He had been a patrol officer for five and half years and currently has been a School Resource Officer for ten months,” according to the staff report. “He has been an advisor for the Police Explorer program and a liaison for Longmont Community Justice Partnership (LCJP) for over four years.

“As a liaison for LCJP, Toby has co-trained, with LCJP, the Frederick Police Department and the Casper Police Department, refers multiple cases to LCJP, and filled in at conferences when other officers are unable to attend.”

How restorative justice works

The staff report includes a diagram of how restorative justice cases would proceed. First, each case would be reviewed by restorative justice staff. This may include a case coordinator or a program manager.

Next, staff conducts intake calls with the offender, the victim, and support people. They are then matched with a volunteer facilitator. Then, during a group conference, trained facilitators let all parties talk about the crime. The offender takes responsibility for the crime and apologizes to the victim.

Finally, sometimes contracts are signed as part of restorative justice agreements.

According to statistics provided by the city, the Longmont program reviews between 100 and 120 cases per year. Three-fourths involve juvenile offenders.

Ninety percent of offenders in the program complete contracts to repair harms. Every single victim reported feeling the offender was held accountable for their actions

A third-party study of Longmont’s data found a recidivism rate of 3.5 percent for 2,500 offenders who completed LCJP’s program between 2006 and 2019. For this study, recidivism was defined as any new criminal charge within the city of Longmont.

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