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Ann Arbor, MI – The Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office, in partnership with the Dispute Resolution Center, today announced the creation of a robust, survivor-centered restorative-justice program. Under the program, crime survivors will be given a choice as to whether they want a case to proceed through the traditional criminal legal system—or whether they want to opt for restorative justice as an alternative.
Restorative justice is 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:
Under the program announced Thursday morning, 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 without filing them. 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 the underlying 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.
“Far too frequently in the criminal legal system, we sideline crime survivors—and don’t give them a choice about how their case will proceed,” said Washtenaw County Prosecutor Eli Savit. “The restorative justice program announced today changes that. Survivors will be given the opportunity to chart their own course, and empowered to reach an outcome that works for them.”
“We stand with survivors in the Prosecutor’s Office,” Savit continued. “And standing with survivors means listening to them.”
The experience in other communities has demonstrated that crime survivors often prefer restorative justice as an alternative to the traditional criminal legal system. New York City maintains a robust restorative-justice program administered by Common Justice. There, a full 90% of survivors who are given the choice opt for restorative justice, 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.
Chief Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Victoria Burton-Harris praised the program’s potential.
“This is an opportunity to both center crime survivors, giving them a voice in their own healing, and to promote true rehabilitation for those who cause harm,” Burton-Harris said. “If we continue to simply punish without healing and restoration, we will continue to see the same harm done throughout our communities.”
“Prosecutors file criminal charges against an individual on behalf of the state, not on behalf of the person who has been harmed. The traditional legal system all too often silences or disregards what someone needs after they’ve been harmed.” Burton-Harris continued. “Most often crime survivors want answers: ‘Why did you harm me?’ ‘Why did you choose me?’ ‘What happened to you to make you behave like this?’ ‘What do you need so that you don’t ever do this again?’ Restorative justice answers those questions and brings true healing to both survivors and those who have harmed them.”
Burton-Harris will oversee the administration of the program in the Prosecutor’s Office, along with First Assistant Prosecutor Christina Hines, Victim/Witness Director Brenda Quiet, and Victim Advocate Rachelle Wilson. All of those professionals played a key role in the creation of the program.
Belinda Dulin, Executive Director of the Dispute Resolution Center, praised the partnership.
“The DRC has been waiting for an opportunity to work with crime survivors and those who want to repair harm for a very long time,” said Dulin. “We believe that when people are empowered to do the right thing, they will. We believe when people are given the opportunity to problem solve, then can. We look forward to working with more community members, seeking not only just outcomes, but healing the harm.”
The Dispute Resolution Center is a 501(c)(3) organization that offers restorative approaches to conflict resolution for residents of Washtenaw and Livingston County. The Dispute Resolution Center has been facilitating mediation and alternative-dispute resolution in partnership with Washtenaw County’s judicial system for 20+ years.
The Prosecutor’s Office’s formal policy guidance around restorative justice was issued to staff on Wednesday afternoon. Under the new program, a wide category of cases may be deflected into restorative justice at the survivor’s option.
Offenses which pose a threat to public safety (such as gun violence), however, 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 Prosecutor’s Office’s full policy directive around restorative justice is available here.