Colorado Restorative Justice

Colorado Restorative Justice

Dianne Frazee-Walker is the founder of Full Circle Restorative Justice (FCRJ) for the 11th Judicial District of Colorado, Chaffee County. (FCRJ) was formed in 2006 as a non-profit 501(c) 3 entity whose purpose was to provide an alternative route for young adult and juvenile first-time offenders entering the revolving court system.
The mission of (FCRJ) is “To enhance the safety of our community by addressing offender accountability and to empower victims through a supportive conflict resolution process.”

There are many advantages to using restorative justice as a form of mediation to resolve crime-related conflict.

Offenders have an opportunity to face their victims and participate in creating a contract for repairing the harm. Victims, who are willing to participate in the process, are empowered by having a voice about how they were affected by the crime and what can be done to restore the damage.

The dialogue that takes place in a restorative circle has the potential of healing both parties. Offenders who participate in the restorative conversation are less likely to re-offend because hearing how their behavior impacted their victims and giving identity to their victims provides offenders with a sense of empathy, accountability, and responsibility that they do not have access to when there is no contact with their victims.

When restorative justice is used to rehabilitate offenders the recidivism rate is less than 10%.

Pete Lee, Colorado State Representative, was re-elected to represent House District 18 in 2010. Soon after being reelected, Mr. Lee drafted HB-11-1032, which gives victims of some crimes the right to meet face-to-face with the offender under highly-regulated circumstances and allows for sentences that focus on compensating and repairing harm to victims. The bill passed unanimously.

Mr. Lee is a long-time advocate of restorative justice because he knows the process is effective. His 35-years of experience as a lawyer and public defender have given Mr. Lee a well-rounded perspective about how the judicial system works. He knows the value of a process “that emphasizes repairing the harm caused or revealed by criminal behavior.”

Mr. Lee believes restorative practices should start with schools. He has an active role in encouraging local schools to use restorative justice as a disciplinary tool for school crimes.

HB-1032 provides schools with restorative justice as a primary option for reducing expulsion and suspensions.

When State Rep. Pete Lee received a standing ovation as he was introduced by Gov. John Hickenlooper at the old courthouse in the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum to have his restorative justice bill signed into law, he addressed his supporters and criminal-justice activists with his proclamation, “We should hope to get to the point where we spend more on classrooms than cages, more on textbooks than prison blocks.”

This bill, Lee says, can help lead to such a future “If you, the people, insist that we use restorative justice in the courts and schools.”

On March 31, 2008, Colorado Governor Bill Ritter signed into law House Bill 08-1117, which authorizes the use of restorative justice (RJ) in the state’s Children’s Code and gives Colorado the legislative edge among states that sanction the use of RJ. The bill passed 63-1 in the House and 33-0 in the Senate.

HB 13-1254 is a recent bill passed in 2013 that allows pre-filing diversion to restorative justice for juveniles. The bill mandates district attorneys to advise juvenile first-time offenders to participate in restorative justice. If the juvenile completes the process, charges can be dismissed.

This past June, Dianne Frazee-Walker visited the Buena Vista, Colorado Correctional Facility to introduce restorative justice to inmates at selected minimum security and medium-security facilities.  The presentation prompted an overwhelming response from adult inmates for a way to repent to their victims.  Ms. Walker has been corresponding with a few of the inmates who are very serious about participating in the restorative process.

Last week Walker met with Mr. Lee in Colorado Springs to discuss options for Colorado adult inmates to legally participate in restorative justice.

Mr. Lee was gracious enough to carefully read copies of letters Walker presented him and provide counsel about what HB-1032 provides for adult inmates incarcerated in Colorado interested in participating in restorative justice.

Mr. Lee emphasized that provisions of HB-1032 for adult incarcerated offenders only apply to the state of Colorado. He also explained that the restorative justice process in Colorado can only be initiated by victims. Offenders need to communicate through their case managers. Victims are contacted via mail from a victims’ services representative.

It is imperative that offenders demonstrate responsibility for their actions and are remorseful and accountable for the harm inflicted on their victims to be eligible candidates for participating in restorative justice.

Mr. Lee suggests contacting the District Attorney Victim Witness Director for Colorado to discuss the possibility of initiating the restorative process.

There are about 6-8 states that allow victim/offender dialogues in prison, but thanks to Colo. State Rep. Pete Lee, Colorado, is at the forefront of restorative justice statutes.

Readers who wish to remain updated about the progress of restorative justice in the state of Colorado should stay tuned.