Restorative justice is the process of repairing harm resulting from a crime: holding offenders accountable, while allowing them to correct their wrongdoings. In general, restorative justice programs have had a positive impact on both criminals and victims. Criminals, for example, may be given reduced incarceration time in exchange for committing a victim-focused restitution. Studies suggest criminals who participate in restorative justice programs are less likely to commit future crimes. Inversely, traditional incarceration tactics fail to address any harm done to victims, instead focusing solely on punishing those who perpetrated the crime against them. Thus, restorative justice benefits victims by attempting to mend or repair damages inflicted upon them.
Types of restorative justice programs across the United States vary widely and are found across many different settings. The practices in one state may look vastly different than practices in another.
Colorado: A Benchmark for Restorative Justice Success
Colorado has developed and implemented the most comprehensive state restorative justice regime. Colorado’s Restorative Justice Council is made up of 19 state-appointed representatives who provide guidance and technical assistance to the state’s ground level restorative justice programs.
The Colorado Department of Corrections offers criminals and victims the opportunity to participate in a variety of restorative justice programs, including: a victim-initiated dialogue between the victim and the offender, a letter bank that allows offenders to submit apology letters to victims, while simultaneously allowing victims to decide whether to read the letters, and a 12-week long Restorative Justice Education Group where victims and inmates collaborate with facilitators through a restorative justice curriculum. In Colorado, programs are usually offered to inmates who have been in prison for at least one year without any disciplinary action.
Colorado has the most comprehensive statutory framework for restorative justice in the United States, as well as the most comprehensive completion standards. These factors and more have led Colorado to become the pioneers of United States restorative justice programs.
Florida’s Developing Approach to Restorative Justice
Florida law does not provide a comprehensive framework for restorative justice practices. Under statutory law, there are few provisions relating to restorative justice practices, and even fewer providing uniform guidelines. In the criminal justice field, there are some programs and organizations charged with promoting restorative justice practices. For juveniles, some programs exist at the local, county, and residential level of the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ). For adults, the Florida Department of Corrections (FDC) have no restorative justice regime, instead relying on pilot programs and informal practices to promote restorative justice practices.
For Florida, there exists significant barriers to crafting a successful restorative justice program, including: a lack of guidelines, no contact orders limiting contact between victims and offenders, logistical issues connecting victims to offenders when they are located far apart, funding, and staffing.
As it stands, Florida lawmakers face significant implementation barriers; however, they should take solace in the fact that other states have faced similar barriers and managed to overcome them. Florida should use the successful roadmap of other states, such as Colorado, to their advantage while crafting a restorative justice strategy.
Florida: Following Colorado’s Lead
While Florida faces significant barriers in the future, other states have utilized strategies that represent solutions for the state. Lawmakers and administrative officials from Florida have discussed the necessity for a formal, concrete, and uniform restorative justice program throughout the state. Colorado, for example, has already addressed this issue by creating statewide guidelines, either through statutory or administrative rules.
Floridian administrators also expressed their concern that no-contact orders would stand in the way of restorative justice programs. Colorado lawmakers have addressed this issue by requiring any criminal protection order or civil no contact order to be modified or lifted for the purpose of offender-victim dialogue, before the offender and victim are permitted to meet face to face.
Funding always poses a threat to the implementation of restorative justice programs. Some states have reported using the federal Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) funding to bankroll their restorative justice programs. VOCA funding is generally available for two purposes: (1) for victims of crimes facing crime-related expenses, and (2) for states to make awards to the criminal justice system. Restorative justice falls under this category, meaning states are eligible for restorative justice funding by the federal government.
In sum, Florida’s current restorative justice program faces significant barriers to entry; however, the successes of other states create a roadmap for Florida lawmakers. Colorado has developed a significant body of statutory and administrative rules, procedures, and guidelines, representing an effective restorative justice regime.