VIRGINIA BEACH (WAVY) – Don’t tell me you’re sorry. Show me you’re sorry. It will end up being better for both of us.
That’s the premise behind a new program in the Virginia Beach Court System.
“Restorative justice” involves explanation and restoration.
“It basically brings everyone involved together and gives everyone involved a chance to explain their side of what happened, humanizes the victim in the eyes of the juvenile and allows them to pretty much heal together,” said Lt. Kevin Lokey of the Youth Services Unit for Virginia Beach Police.
The program is a partnership with city’s Juvenile Court Services.
Juveniles can qualify if they commit certain types of misdemeanors, including larceny, destruction of property and simple assault, and then the choice for restorative justice belongs to the victim and the offender.
The offer from the court system comes after a cooling off period for the victim.
“They may realize that it’s a kid,” Lokey said. “Kids make mistakes, we’ve all made mistakes, we were all kids.”
Lokey explained how it’s different from regular juvenile court.
“A defendant is not required to really say much in court,” Lokey said. “They are under no obligation to accept responsibility if they’re found guilty and they don’t have to accept that they’re guilty. They have to accept the finding and pay any fines and whatnot, but they don’t ever have to admit that they did it.”
With restorative justice, it’s more like an intervention, and Lokey said that is often tougher than facing a judge.
“They have to sit there, look at their victim and admit what they did and accept reasonability for it, which I think for anyone is difficult,” he said.
And then everyone comes up with a plan to make right what went wrong.
“(For example) it’s repainting the fence or its paying for the damages,” Lokey said. “You’re actually having to take action.”
Virginia Beach now has one of only a handful of restorative justice programs in the state.
“We’re really excited that we’ve partnered with the police department and that we’re able to get this program up and running,” said Katie McCurdy of the Juvenile Court Service Unit. “This is very victim driven and they determine if we’re going to proceed or not.”
And a minor gets only one bite of the apple, because if restorative justice didn’t work for a young offender the first time, it’s no longer an option.
“We don’t want to use it as a crutch,” said Community Intervention Supervisor Kisha Jackson. “If you keep saying I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, OK, at some point we now have to send it up (to juvenile court) because it’s no longer working for you.”
According to Lokey, restorative justice gets results.
After six months the recidivism rate for restorative justice is 1%, compared to 6% for juveniles who go through a diversion program.
After 12 months recidivism is 3% for restorative justice compared to 13% for diversion and 26% for juveniles who are charged and put on probation.
He said for victims and offenders to truly heal, actions speak so much louder than words.
“It’s not saying sorry,” Lokey said. “It’s doing sorry.”