Area advocates learn about restorative justice programs

Thursday, March 2, 2006

A small group of advocates for improving communities by making criminal offenders accountable were introduced Wednesday afternoon to the Missouri Restorative Justice Coalition.

Restorative justice is a process in which criminal offenders are held accountable for their crimes, develop empathy for the victim and make amends.

The coalition, formed in 2005, seeks to expand awareness of restorative justice and promote more such programs in Missouri.

"The outcome of restorative justice is quite remarkable," said Nina Balsam, chair of the coalition.

Restorative justice lowers recidivism, or repeat offenses, among felons because it allows them to see the harm from criminal acts instead of just doling out punishments, Balsam said.

"We've got to do something to reduce our prison population in a more positive manner," said Tish Johnson, an Extension community development specialist.

Johnson is also the regional representative for the coalition, which is divided into five regions throughout the state.

The coalition meets four times a year in Jefferson City, Mo., the next meeting being May 4.

Among those who attended the Wednesday meeting, at the Cape Girardeau County Extension office in Jackson, were various members of the justice system, most of whom have experience with some form of a restorative justice program.

Some have incarcerated felons grow produce that is given to senior citizens, have juvenile offenders do work in the community, or feature victims of crime as guest speakers.

A second meeting was tentatively planned where a regional directory would be put together of agencies in Southeast Missouri that participate in programs similar to restorative justice programs.

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