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KOLD INVESTIGATES: Pima County considering new program that could reshape crime, punishment

Published: Feb. 8, 2021 at 3:10 PM MST|Updated: Feb. 7, 2021 at 10:39 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Pima County could soon adopt a new form of justice based on healing instead of punishing.

“It would be a historic first,” said Pima County Attorney Laura Conover.

Conover wants to create a Restorative Justice Program.

“It is a guided program the defendant has to go through a lot of work to show that he or she qualifies and is ready to engage in this process,” Conover said.

The program is still in the planning stage, but it would allow non-violent, remorseful adult offenders a chance to make things right with their victims. If things go well, the offenders could have their charges dropped.

Kara Hunter is the executive director of the Yolo Conflict Resolution Center in California. She helped her district attorney’s office create a similar program.

“This is a complete paradigm shift from the way that we think about crime in society,” Hunter said. “The key decisions are made by the people most affected by what took place as opposed to our traditional systems where those decisions are made by judges and attorneys. So, for a district attorney’s office to kind of relinquish that to a restorative justice process is a really big deal.”

Hunter said when the victim and offender want to go through the process together, it can be transformative for both parties.

“Any restorative justice process is meant to be victim centered. It is an opportunity for the victim to share with the offender who they have been impacted and it can be really empowering for a victim to get to say that to someone that has caused them harm. Additionally, they get to talk about what their needs are, what they need to see happen to feel like they can start to be made whole again,” Hunter said.

Hunter said results vary because the process allows for flexibility.

Yolo County launched its restorative justice program in 2013.

Staff found participants of the program are about nine times less likely to reoffend after completing the program than those who are convicted and sentenced to jail time.

“Results across the country are just extraordinary,” Conover said.

Conover said as much as she wants to pursue restorative justice for the health of the community, it could have an impact on the backlog of cases building due to the pandemic.

“Cases are stalled out so only the most critical motions and hearings are being heard,” she said. “So, having something outside the system...those victims are getting justice a heck of a lot quicker than the system can normally provide.”

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