Restorative justice program OK’d

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Despite some skepticism on cost, effectivness, council unanimously endorses trial proposal

By Gene Sears

Restorative justice will soon be an option for criminal justice cases in Fort Lupton.
    Voted in by the city council earlier this month, the initial grant acceptance and first phase of study moves a step closer to reality.
    The program, centered on a mediative approach to reforming youthful low-level offenders, takes the formal municipal court system out of the rehabilitative process. Instead, parents, juveniles and city-appointed facilitators review the offense and the implication on the community before meting out a mutually agreed-upon “sentence” to be carried out by the accused.
    Geared toward crimes such as shoplifting, disorderly conduct or fistfights between juvenile offenders, the program seeks to nip criminal behaviors before they escalate into more serious offenses. If the juvenile agrees to and completes the program, no permanent record is filed, a huge advantage for kids guilty of a single lapse in judgment.
    “We passed it, it was unanimous,” Fort Lupton Mayor Tommy Holton said. “Council’s feelings were that we wanted to go in a different direction than just the judicial one for the kids, to try and help some of them out. We will be putting that program together here shortly.”
    “My question was, and what we will do regardless for the grant, is to keep track of staff time,” said Fort Lupton Councilor Shannon Rhoda. “(FLPD Police Chief Ken Poncelow) said there is no hard monies involved, but there is still staff time involved.”
    The plan is to track manpower resources used by the city in pursuit of the community court.
    “That way we have an idea of how much it really does cost,” Rhoda said. “And then the next year, we will re-look at it.”
    Rhoda carries some skepticism into the program, but is willing to take a chance.
    “I personally don’t think it will work,” she said. “But we will give it a shot and see. He said it is basically soft dollars that would be used to keep it running, and we’ll give it a year and see how much those soft dollars cost.”
    What won’t be tracked is the offset between the cost of the traditional court versus Restorative Justice, due in part to the low initial numbers projected for participation, roughly twenty percent of juvenile cases, or 12 to 13 juveniles annually.
    “There’s not really enough that going to be going to the community court, unless all of a sudden we have a bunch of children just decide to flip out,” Rhoda explained. “There isn’t going to be enough to calculate, because I asked that. They said there would be a little bit but not much, so basically we are not even looking at saving any money on the court side.”

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