Restorative justice is a trend in some communities whose leaders recognize that addiction often fuels criminal behavior. It is a system of criminal justice which focuses in part on the rehabilitation of offenders through reconciliation with victims and the community at large.
It is being practiced in Pacific County through a program known as Drug Court, run through the Superior Court with Pacific County Health and Human Services
While it has been in existence since 2008, it has gained new impetus by the county in the last three years by the allocation of a well-trained staff member committed to make the process succeed. She better coordinates the administration of the program while providing emotional and practical support to those taking part.
Everyone involved celebrates its success stories like the one featured in the Observer last week. But they also concede it has its share of failures, too.
The program exists to offer people who have committed a felony which can be directly linked to their drug habit. The young man featured last week had broken into an empty house looking for money, but all sorts of felonies are considered, for example eluding police.
Quite rightly, drug dealers are not eligible, and nor are sex perverts or people who have committed crimes of violence.
Over the course of more than a year, those who sign up for the program have to follow some pretty stringent rules. An inpatient drug facility invariably plays an important part of their early recovery regimen.
They first must admit guilt and agree that if they fail to comply with everything that is required they will serve the maximum of the sentencing range for their crimes.
In return, they gain help in obtaining and keeping employment, obtaining or retaining a driver’s license, and ensuring they have suitable, safe housing and home lives. As one might expect, regular surprise drug testing is an important component to randomly check compliance.
Early in the assessment process, a jail liaison officer weeds out those who want to “game” the system and simply avoid jail time. He looks for those who have hit rock bottom but genuinely appear to want to turn their lives around.
Rather than simply be locked up with other criminals, the program offers hope and practical help. Benjamin Haslam, Pacific County’s chief deputy prosecuting attorney, told the graduating county resident, “Our community is better off having you as a part of it.”
Our writer who attended a recent session was struck by the remarkably positive tone of support for the Drug Court graduate from others who are participating. Superior Court judges Don Richter and Doug Goelz both said that was essential and valuable.
After Richter dismissed the burglary charge against the graduate, everyone gathered in a nearby office for cake. The icing offered a clear message: “Recovery. It’s work. It’s a process. It’s worth it. It’s possible.”
The United States continues to lead the world in the numbers and percentage of its population in jail or prison. It is pleasing that Pacific County justice administrators are committed to playing a role in diminishing this appalling statistic.