Expert says alternatives to jail involve efforts of many
Jun 09, 2010
While restorative probation boards could save the state money by punishing nondangerous offenders in the community instead of jail, Nilson’s underlying philosophy runs deeper.
The process would help give a voice to victims of crime, the literal victims and the community as a victim, Nilson said. That voice is largely absent in western criminal justice systems in which “the state” takes over the role as victim and turns victims into the state’s witnesses, he said.
The roles are out of whack, Nilson said. Government’s role should be to restrain and punish offenders when crimes are committed. But there also has to be a role in the process for victims and the community, which is a sort of secondary victim.
“It is an offense against a real victim,” Nilson said. “Crime is more than law breaking. You’re doing an injury, and an injury requires real healing. I don’t think that’s too theoretical. The point is there’s various roles for everyone, and they’re complimentary.”
The restorative tasks would also be designed to increase offenders’ sense of responsibility for their crimes and to offer them tasks that will rebuild their connection to their community. The state can punish, Nilson said, but only community members can welcome offenders back into the fold. That is what will discourage further crimes, he said.
“It’s more ‘We’re going to partner with you, and we know you can do this,’ ” Nilson said. “What I’m trying to communicate is that it’s more than punishment.”
Nilson’s plans aren’t out of the realm of possibility. Diament said he knows similar programs have seen success in other areas. His concern is making sure it is done well rather than quickly.
“Personally, I think it’s a very sound approach to criminal justice work,” Diament said. “It engages the community with dealing with a community problem. We know that it’s been done successfully elsewhere. We’d rather do it well than just do it haphazardly.”
Nilson said he hopes to meet with Diament and other DOC officials soon to begin work on a cooperative agreement.