RJ and Juvenile Justice in Washington D.C.
On July 2, NPR aired two stories highlighting Washington D.C.’s move toward restorative justice within their juvenile justice system. D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine has created a restorative justice conferencing program within his office–an unusual and somewhat controversial move for an elected prosecutor–which he hopes will serve as a national model.
“Our objective in our prosecutions, particularly since we’re dealing young people, is to put them in a position to learn from their mistakes…” Attorney General Racine said.
When juvenile participants in the program follow through on the plans they develop with their victims, their charges are dismissed. Although prosecutors in the office were at first skeptical, through experience they have begun to accept the new approach.
“I’ve come to believe that the public is actually safer if we can do a successful restorative justice conference, rather than less safe, because if you can actually change the hearts and minds of this young person, or these young people, then the hope is that they’re less likely to reoffend,” said Prosecutor Erika Clark.
The first segment features a local police officer who was injured when he intervened in a fight between two young people. The officer explained his decision to participate in a conference with the young man charged with assaulting him, “I saw something in this young man…I want to see how I can change his life to the point where he doesn’t make a decision like this again.”
The second segment focuses on a conference involving a hate crime. At the end of the conference the young man charged with the crime agreed to stand up for LGBTQ people who are being harassed in the future, and the woman who he harmed agreed to refer clients to his nascent barber business. The victim described the process as “completely successful.”