A new California program will give victims an opportunity to heal and offenders the opportunity to repent – but will it work?
A new diversion program that allows victims to confront their offenders will be put in place in a county with high offense rates and funded by $5 million for five years. The program will be open to offenders of any age, who can sign up for it before they are convicted. Those who complete the program will avoid having a criminal record.
This type of program has been tried before, mostly with juvenile offenders, but those in favor of the program believe direct dialogue between victim and offender can lead to healing on the victim’s part. It is also thought to reduce reoffending, as offenders who do not carry around a criminal record may be less likely to resort to crime in the future.
A similar program run in San Joaquin County processed 76 offenders in 3.5 years. Only 3 of the graduates went on to commit new crimes.
Senator Steve Glazer of Orinda helped campaign for the funding for the program. He believes the program will give victims the chance to move on with their lives, while offering the opportunity to offenders to make it right.
“The goal of restorative justice is to give victims a chance to receive true justice in a much more personal way than our current system allows,” said Senator Glazer, in an interview with AP’s Don Thompson. “At the same time, the program gives offenders a chance to make amends directly to the victim.”
Who is eligible to partake in the program? Officials will offer offenders with a fairly short criminal history who have committed serious crimes that involve a high degree of violence the chance to participate. Offenders charged with sex or murder crimes will not be able to join the program, though people charged with robbery, home burglary, or assault are invited to make amends to their victims.
The programs will be tailored to each specific case. The victim, offender, law enforcement, defense attorneys, and members of community groups will work together to draw up a program that benefits both victim and offender. These programs can include courses like job preparation and counseling, as well as substance abuse treatment if appropriate.
Victims can even ask for financial restitution, if the crime caused them to incur high hospital bills or miss work. Offenders are offered the chance to lessen their prison sentence, though the full sentence will be reinstated if they do not complete the program.
One of the biggest proponents for the program is Adnan Khan. Adnan Khan, the co-founder and co-executive director of Re:store Justice, inspired Senator Glazer to move forward with the project and seek funds to run the program. He believes restorative justice is the best way for victim and offender to move forward. Khan served 16 years of a life murder sentence at San Quentin State Prison.
“This will provide an opportunity for people to truly understand why they did what they did, so then they can be accountable, and so then they can continue making amends,” Khan said in an interview with AP’s Don Thompson.