Restorative Justice Policy
Policy 2021-16: Policy Regarding Restorative Justice
Far too frequently, crime survivors are sidelined in our adversarial criminal legal system. The Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office’s Restorative Justice program seeks to change that—and to give crime survivors more control over the outcomes of cases.
When a crime occurs, the State—through the local prosecutor—files charges, and seeks to impose punishment. But the State’s exclusive jurisdiction over a case means that crime survivors are often sidelined. As courts have emphasized, violations of criminal law are “offenses against the state.” “[P]rosecution,” the Michigan Court of Appeals has starkly explained, “is not for the benefit of the injured party, but for the public good.” People v. Williams, 244 Mich. App. 249, 252–53, 625 N.W.2d 132, 135 (2001).
While there are good reasons for criminal prosecutions to be brought by the State, an unfortunate side effect is that crime survivors are often sidelined. Crime survivors often report serious dissatisfaction with the adversarial process. They are frequently reluctant to report crime in the first place. And an adversarial approach to justice often does little to ensure real accountability on the part of the person who committed a crime. In many cases, it also fails to protect against recidivism, making our communities less safe in the long run.
Restorative justice seeks to change that. It is, at its core, a survivor-driven model for addressing harm. If, and only if, survivors opt for restorative justice, the survivor and the person who committed harm work together with a trained facilitator to reach an individualized solution for how the survivor can be made whole.
Restorative justice consists of three primary elements:
- The person who committed harm must acknowledge the harm done and take responsibility.
- The person who committed harm, and the person harmed, must voluntarily work together and agree to a plan in which amends can be made.
- The person who committed the harm, and all affected parties who desire to do so, must work together to determine the root causes of the harm and develop a plan to ensure that the harm will not reoccur.
The Prosecutor’s Office’s restorative justice program gives crime survivors the option of pursuing restorative justice as an alternative to the traditional criminal legal system. On qualifying cases, a Victim Advocate from the Prosecutor’s Office will reach out to crime survivors—before any charges are authorized—and give them the option of participating in restorative justice. If the survivor does not want to participate in restorative justice, the Prosecutor’s Office will proceed with criminal charges in the normal course.
If, however, the survivor opts for restorative justice—and the would-be defendant is prepared to do so—the Prosecutor’s Office will “hold” the charges. Trained facilitators from the Dispute Resolution Center will work with survivors and would-be defendants to facilitate a plan through which amends can be made.
If the survivor and the person who committed harm (1) reach a resolution, (2) the plan to make amends is followed, and (3) the would-be defendant is not accused of any new crimes for 18 months, the Prosecutor’s Office will decline to authorize all charges. If the restorative justice process fails, or the would-be defendant is accused of a new crime, the Prosecutor’s Office may choose to move forward on the initial charges.
Although a wide category of cases may be deflected into restorative justice at the survivor’s option, the Prosecutor’s Office’s top priority is always ensuring public safety. Accordingly, offenses which pose a threat to public safety (such as gun violence) will not be eligible. Nor will cases involving intimate-partner violence, sexual assault, victimization of children, or cases in which the person who committed harm was in a supervisory role or other position of authority over the crime survivor.
The experience in other communities has demonstrated that restorative justice works. Crime survivors often prefer restorative justice as an alternative to the traditional criminal legal system. In New York City, a full 90% of survivors who are given the choice to engage in restorative justice opt for that program, rather than the traditional criminal legal system. Would-be defendants who participate in restorative justice are also significantly more likely to complete restitution to the crime survivor than those who do not. And multiple studies have concluded that restorative justice makes it less likely that a person will re-offend. Restorative justice thus centers survivors—and ultimately, protects public safety.