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Restorative justice initiatives in WY are just starting

Restorative justice is an approach to dealing with crime that put the victim of the crime front and center and considers how the offense affected the community, rather than looking at it as an isolated incident. Wyoming Public Radio has a three part series about restorative justice efforts in Wyoming, starting with a case study. To hear Part 3 of the series, click here.

In the first part we heard from Stephen Watt and Mark Farnham about how they became unlikely friends after Farnham shot Watt over 30 years ago. Today, as friends, one of the things that bonds them is pushing for restorative justice practices within the criminal justice system. In this second part we hear how, for now, Wyoming has little to offer for those seeking restorative justice counseling in the state.

IRINA ZHOROV: To start, what is restorative justice?  

RICHARD PRINCE: The underlying basis of restorative justice is to repair the harm that’s been done in a crime.

ZHOROV: That’s Richard Prince, a trained facilitator in restorative justice.

PRINCE: It’s not so much that a law has been broken, as it is that people have been hurt. So what restorative justice seeks to do is repair the harm that has been done to the victim and also the community that was involved in the crime.

ZHOROV: Victims Coordinator for the Wyoming Board of Parole, Randi Losalu, adds that victims are a more central focus in restorative justice counseling.

LOSALU: In the regular criminal justice system sometimes I see the victims just being put aside, and they’re not really brought in as much as they should be or would like to be. I mean, it’s their only time to really have a say.

ZHOROV: The way it works is victim and offender are brought together for a one-time meeting to speak about the offense itself and their respective experiences after it. The victim has to request the meeting, and the facilitator does a lot of prep work to get both victim and offender ready to meet again.  

The state currently has no such programs for adults, just one for youth in Fremont County. But both Losalu and Prince are working to bring more restorative justice counseling to the state.

So far, Losalu has done one session.

LOSALU: The outcome of the one last year was like ideal, they hugged and the offender told the victim what he was planning on doing, which was some really great things, and it was basically kind of what the victim was hoping for, that he had  turned his life around and was moving towards the positive…

ZHOROV: Prince says that for the victims the meetings can also be an opportunity to get closure.

PRINCE: The victim may have a period of peace or a period of rest while the offender is in prison, but as soon as the offender gets released again then the fear and everything rises back up because there was never any closure. The victims always have the questions, why did you do what you do, I don’t understand, this is how you made me feel.

ZHOROV: Prince says offenders benefit as well. He thinks it’s important to try to salvage people who have done wrong instead of continuing to fill our prisons.

The idea of salvaging is perhaps more poignantly told by Patty Granlund, a juvenile probation officer with Fremont County Youth Services.

PATTY GRANLUND: This is a way that we can really divert juveniles out of the adult criminal court system.  

ZHOROV: Granlund uses restorative justice methods when dealing with youth who get into trouble.

She thinks it’s more effective than any traditional, punitive methods.

GRANLUND: The trend is they don’t reoffend, they don’t get tickets.

ZHOROV: She works exclusively with youth who’ve committed misdemeanors. But there is similar data for all types of offenders and offenses.

Granlund told about one of her first restorative justice sessions, where she met with two young men and their neighbor, who they had robbed. In that case, she says, the woman walked away after the meeting with her fear of the boys assuaged and the boys were able to get a new perspective.

GRANLUND: Before it was just some old lady that lived next door. They didn’t know her and so for them they could really identify wow, this is, like, my grandma, this is like my family member, this is something that somebody could have done to my grandmother. They were able to share with the victim their apologies, their reasoning, their intent to make it right. 

ZHOROV: Still, Granlund says this methodology is not appropriate in every case. And Prince maintains that such efforts are in addition to the existing criminal justice system. 

PRINCE: Prisons are going to be necessary, jails are going to be necessary, the current justice system, the way we have it, it is necessary. Restorative justice is not to replace what we have, it’s to work hand in hand with what we have. But at the same time restorative justice is to bring out the people who  we’re throwing away in prison that we really shouldn’t be throwing away.

ZHOROV: In some states, restorative justice methods are used before sentencing, and eventually programs like that could help contain the swelling prison system, save money, and, in Prince’s words, salvage more people. But for now Wyoming is starting out small. Losalu has received the go-ahead from the Board of Parole to develop the protocol for a victim-offender dialog program and will attend a training in September.

Irina Zhorov is a reporter for Wyoming Public Radio. She earned her BA from the University of Pennsylvania and an MFA from the University of Wyoming. In between, she worked as a photographer and writer for Philadelphia-area and national publications. Her professional interests revolve around environmental and energy reporting and she's reported on mining issues from Wyoming, Mexico, and Bolivia. She's been supported by the Dick and Lynn Cheney Grant for International Study, the Eleanor K. Kambouris Grant, and the Social Justice Research Center Research Grant for her work on Bolivian mining and Uzbek alpinism. Her work has appeared on Voice of America, National Native News, and in Indian Country Today, among other publications.
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