We incarcerate too many youth and our government is broke—we’ve heard both laments lately in the news. The cry goes up for an effective way to deal with youthful offenders—a way that is cost effective, proven, humane, and rehabilitative. The answer is here: Restorative Justice.
Restorative Justice is an age-old way of dealing with infractions upon societal norms. It involves those who have been wronged, and allows them to have a say in the outcome. It holds the perpetrator directly responsible for the wrong-doing, and seeks to reintegrate him or her into the community. It is an alternative to incarceration that reduces recidivism and costs, and provides better emotional outcomes for victims and offenders. It involves a face-to-face meeting between the parties to get answers and provide accountability. Meetings are facilitated by an experienced mediator.
RESTORE, Inc, formerly the Victim-Offender Mediation Program, has offered this service in southeastern South Dakota for nearly 20 years. The program is underutilized, however, and is ready to step in today to alleviate budget and other problems associated with nonviolent juvenile offenders. Restorative Justice programs have been used across the United States for over 25 years, but are based in indigenous practices that have been in use for thousands of years. Dozens of studies exist to prove their effectiveness. In South Dakota, the Center for Restorative Justice in Rapid City was created under the leadership of Judge Merton B. Tice, Jr. in 1997, and mediates many cases each year. I helped set up programs in Indiana, New Hampshire, and Michigan that have been in operation for decades. As a consultant to the National Institute of Corrections, I have evaluated the effectiveness of such programs and have published many articles in the field. I know it works.
It’s time for South Dakota to stop thinking about punishment only in terms of jail and prison. Thinking about crime through the lens of restorative justice translates into a philosophy of making things right—for the victim, the offender, and the community as a whole. RESTORE is ready to put Restorative Justice to work. The question is, is South Dakota ready for a better approach?