Glenn Funk, Tennessee Davidson County District Attorney General, wants a restorative justice program in Nashville. Mayor Megan Barry and other officials have signaled their support, and a pilot program is being developed in Juvenile Court. Funk said restorative justice program “can create a more fair justice system and better serve the community of Nashville.“
The basics of restorative justice.
Expert calls restorative justice ‚more victim-focused than the traditional court system. Graham Reside, a professor and administrator in the Vanderbilt University Divinity School, called it an alternative to arrests, trials and jail time that is „more victim-focused than the traditional court system.“ In restorative justice systems, an offender could still be arrested and investigated, but rather than going through a trial, the case would be routed to a more conversational process that included the offender, the victim and a mediator, among others. During that conversation, the parties would be able to express their points of view — the victim would get to say how the crime hurt them and the offender could explain their motivation. Then all parties would work to come up with a resolution. Sometimes the resolution includes jail time, but it’s typically more creative and unconventional.
“The current system really puts a lot of pressure on you not to accept responsibility,” Reside said, referencing how defendants are often encouraged not to plead guilty, and that often victims only speak during sentencing hearings. „This system has more possibilities for healing whereas the other system seems to be creating deeper and deeper wounds on both sides,“ Reside said. „That’s a kind of perverse reality in our criminal justice system.“
Restorative justice aims to limit jail time and stop people from committing more crimes. Evidence suggests that offenders who go through restorative justice are less likely to commit more crimes, particularly young people. It also tends to shrink the jail population, which saves government costs. The system has gained traction in recent years as part of a growing bipartisan effort to reform the criminal justice system. “Some of the people that are closest to this are interested in seeing this flourish,“ Reside said. „The current system has some problems,“ he said. „This seems to have some legs and might work.“
The mayor’s Youth Violence Summit recommended restorative justice.
In 2016, the Youth Violence Summit convened by Mayor Megan Barry issued a report suggesting restorative justice in the juvenile courts. The issue has clear momentum among city leaders. Juvenile Court Judge Sheila Calloway would play a key role in shaping the program. She has written a supportive column and delivered a local TED Talk on the subject.
Then a delegation of law enforcement officials went to Oakland, Calif., to study that city’s restorative justice system. Funk, Calloway, Public Defender Dawn Deaner and Metro police Capt. Gordon Howey, who oversees the department’s Youth Services Division, were on the trip. In an interview on Friday, Howey signaled his support for the model, particularly as it applied to young people. „There’s research that shows early detention sometimes leads to jail time on down the road,“ Howey said. „This is an effort or attempt to try to break part of that cycle. … „It’s a pretty promising next step of something that could be new and creative and an opportunity to try to change some lives.”
In Nashville, the program will start with a pilot in juvenile courts.
Nashville’s juvenile court system is in the process of rolling out a pilot program that would use restorative justice here. In the pilot, only certain cases of home burglary would be routed through the new process. In a column published this year by the Nashville Bar Journal, Calloway said restorative justice in burglary cases could offer a rare chance for burglary victims to ask questions of the offenders. „Anecdotally, we have learned of burglary cases that have gone through Restorative Justice and have resulted in a great deal of healing for the victim and the youth,“ Calloway wrote. „The victim’s fears of the unknown are assuaged and the youth comes to understand the serious impact of their actions.“ Calloway said she is working to find a nonprofit partner that would oversee the pilot. Funk said the next step is to secure funding for the partnership, which he said would likely be less than $200,000. Formalizing the program, Funk said, could help maintain trust between law enforcement and Nashvillians. „A lot of the angst in the community has been about whether or not our justice system is fair,“ Funk said. „Justice programs really can bring the community together rather than tear it apart.“
— THE TENNESSEAN