The Real Costs of our “Justice” System – Elaine Daly/Sister Eli
In 2019, RJI invited a contingent of New Yorkers to join us in traveling to Denver, Colorado for the annual gathering of NACRJ. We provided scholarships for ten people. Here are excerpts from an essay written prior to the trip from one of the extraordinary members of our local restorative justice community about their relationship to restorative practices.
I am an Afro-Caribbean Muslim, a mother, and have a Masters of Social Work in Leadership and Community Forensics.
In 2014, I was arrested for the first time in my life because I was told that I should have known my husband was a suspect in a crime. I was threatened with my child being taken away from me and charged with hindering prosecution in the second degree which is a C felony. I spent one day in lockup and three days in jail because I was not allowed a phone call and no one was notified I was arrested. I was treated as if I were guilty and was not offered a blanket, breakfast, or lunch during a polar vortex in Waterbury, CT. I lost my job, spent all of my retirement fund and most of my savings trying to clear my name, and finally asked my family for help because I was 7 months pregnant and facing 3-10 years in prison. There was no restorative justice, other alternatives to incarceration, diversion for mental health, or any deals discussed because the prosecutor wanted me to either perjure myself and say I knew my husband had committed a crime or go to jail as a codefendant.
After three years I was homeless, unemployed, and depressed. Eventually, I avoided 3-10 years in prison by taking an Alford plea* and was sentenced to 3 years of probation so that I could try to rebuild my life with my child. I had nobody knowledgeable helping me.
We need better options offered more readily and accountability for prosecutors who overcharge so that they can get a plea deal as a record of guilt. To be a pillar in the community of Reentry Support and Restorative Justice, I plan to dismantle these oppressive systems and create new policies that are trauma-informed and family-friendly so we can build up and strengthen our neighborhoods.
*Alford Plea – Also known as a “best-interests plea,” an Alford plea registers a formal claim neither of guilt nor innocence toward charges brought against a defendant in criminal court. Like a nolo contendere plea, an Alford plea arrests the full process of criminal trial because the defendant — typically, only with the court’s permission — accepts all the ramifications of a guilty verdict (i.e. punishment) without first attesting to having committed the crime. The name, Alford plea, is taken from North Carolina v. Alford 400 U.S. 25. (Source: The Legal Information Institute of Cornell Law School)