The concept at the core of Restorative Justice, Packard said, is that it is a victim-centered process that seeks to rebuild relationships after a crime is committed. “The court looks at the state as the victim,” she said. “Restorative Justice looks at the victim as the victim. It’s very relationship oriented. We want to restore that relationship with the community.”
To become involved in the Restorative Justice process in Winona County, an offender must be a juvenile and it must be the first criminal charge.
Someone from the county attorney’s office reviews incoming juvenile cases and refers possible candidates to Radke and Packard, who then approach the offender.
Any sort of crime is suitable for the Restorative Justice process, Packard and Radke said, with the prerequisite only being that the offender accept responsibility that what was done was wrong.
Offenders who say yes to participating and follow through with the process, will not have the crime appear on the criminal record, a major incentive for someone who has just dabbled with the wrong side of the law.
Restorative Justice involves often creative and meaningful consequences for offenders that they devise together with their victims. Restitution, volunteer activities, a steady job, a research paper and many other unconventional punishments have come out of the Restorative Justice conference process.
Some kids say no for a variety of reasons, Radke said. In the past, the wait time to get connected to Restorative Justice left families feeling as if it was more expedient to deal with a charge through the courts.
Other juveniles would rather stare at the face of a judge than the person they hurt, even if it is just the loss prevention worker from a local store. “It’s a little more difficult to sit face-to-face, that feels uncomfortable to kids, but the process really is about being accountable to the victim,” Packard said.