Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Pretrial mediation bill implements restorative justice concepts

Given this blog's interest in the "restorative justice" movement, I'm pleased to see HB 2139 by McLendon on Thursday's House Corrections Committee agenda, "relating to the establishment, operation, and funding of pretrial victim-offender mediation programs."

A restorative justice approach focuses on meeting victims' needs instead of indulging the punitive populist impulse, which exactly describes this bill's focus.

HB 2139 would allow counties or municipalities to utilize "pretrial mediation" between offenders and crime victims instead of prosecuting low-level crimes. The system could only be used in state jail felony cases and lower where the defendant has no prior convictions. Participation would require consent by both the crime victim and defendant, who as part of a mediation agreement would have to apologize to the victim and pay restitution or perform community service, as well as pay related court costs.

Charges would be dismissed if the defendant successfully completes the terms of the mediation agreement. The whole arrangement sounds similar to successful programs I've heard described from South Australia, particularly in juvenile courts.

What an excellent suggestion! And since it's voluntary, counties that don't want to implement such programs needn't do so. Good bill.


Anonymous said...

I first heard about restorative justice over 10 years ago when I took part in a victim-offender mediation class offered by (believe it or not) TDCJ. It has tremendous potential not only to give some real help to victims, but also to help change the lives of offenders. I would love to implement this in our adult probation department. Unfortunately, there would be two drawbacks. First, this is a very time-intensive process, and we don't have a lot of extra staff time to do it. Second, you would have to get the DA's office to buy into it, and many of them would see it as too soft. We have a pre-trial drug court, but it has only half the number of participants as other counties that are smaller than we are because the DA's office is so restrictive on allowing people in.

Anonymous said...

Harris County used to have a juvie mediationj program, but it was scrapped under Rosenthal and despite suggestions the current regime hasn't changed enough to get it going again.

It was dfone without a PO even present, and took no time or money to implement. It was 100% volunteer and DRC driven, which was already funded through the county and bar.

Anonymous said...

Anything that diverts first offender juveniles from our justice system is great idea.

Kids involved in minor things don't need to be exposed to some of these "gangstas" that trump charges, plea bargain with co-defendants for testimony, etc., etc.