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BARJ - Putting Balanced and Restorative Justice into Practice in the Courts

From the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority www.icjia.state.il.us

Youth can become involved with a BARJ program at various points in the juvenile justice process. Law enforcement may divert cases to BARJ programming as a part of a formal or informal station adjustment. Prosecutors may choose to divert cases to a BARJ program in lieu of a formal charge or negotiate with defense attorneys for guilty plea agreements requiring participation in the program. Judges can order an offender who has acknowledged responsibility for an offense to participate in a BARJ program. Probation officers may develop conditions of probation, in some cases along with citizens and victims, which follow the principles of BARJ. A detention or corrections center may have offenders participate in BARJ programs, which can aid in an offenders’ successful reentry into the community. In addition, a BARJ program can handle violations of probation or disciplinary actions within a juvenile facility. Finally, offenders may voluntarily agree to participate in a BARJ program or practice separate from any obligations imposed by the court system. BARJ-based practices also are used outside of the system to handle neighborhood disputes and misconduct in schools.

The role of prosecution and BARJ The American Bar Association’s Model Code of Professional Responsibility states, “The responsibility of a public prosecutor differs from that of the usual advocate; her duty is to seek justice, not merely convict.” Prosecutor success can no longer be measured by the quantity of convictions or by the imposition of tough sentences. Prosecutors are, in many ways, the gatekeepers of the court system and must make sure that courts are efficient and make the best use of scarce resources. Overcrowded prisons and jails force prosecutors to acknowledge that it is not feasible for all offenders to do time and that other community alternatives must be sought. The reality of court cases is that most offenses are not violent, the majority of offenders plead guilty, and most court cases are resolved through a plea agreement.

Using a BARJ-based approach, prosecutors can examine each case individually to determine the best course of action. When offenders are diverted and not held accountable for the harm they caused, victims are sent the message that the crime was not serious. In contrast, BARJ-based programs, even those that are diversions from the court process, hold offenders accountable to both victims and community. If guided by the philosophy of BARJ, prosecutors can address public safety demands while meeting the needs of the victim and community.

BARJ-based practices encourage collaboration in the courtroom among the judge, prosecutor, and defense, along with victims, communities, and offenders. However, prosecutors still retain some of their traditional roles. The traditional adversarial system is applied whenever a client pleads not guilty or does not elect to participate in a BARJ-based program. In addition, defendants who are repeat offenders or are charged with a serious or violent crime and plead guilty still may not be able to serve their sentences within the community. Offenders may be able to participate in a balanced and restorative program within a detention or correctional facility.

Prosecutors can use BARJ principles to hold offenders accountable for the harm they caused their victims, build their competency skills, and protect the community.

Prosecution and victims Depending on the type of crime, victimization can range from an inconvenience to traumatization. Each victim’s response to crime also may vary. Victims may need empowerment, reassurance, vindication, and an understanding of what happened. Sometimes these needs are not met by the traditional justice system. BARJ-based processes, in contrast, are better designed to meet the range of crime victims’ needs. Research suggests that victims are open to sentences that are restorative and often do not desire the incarceration of their offender. In addition, victims want their offenders to receive treatment. Studies also have shown that BARJ practices offer high victim satisfaction and reduce fear and anxiety.

Many prosecutor offices in Illinois employ victim assistance specialists. These specialists typically aid victims through the justice process by assisting with the calculation of restitution amounts, preparing victim impact statements, referring victims to services, and keeping victims apprised of court proceedings.

These specialists can expand their role to discuss the restorative justice process—a process through which victims may be given the opportunity to better understand why they were victimized and reduce their fear of being re-victimized. If victims decide to participate in a BARJ program, specialists who are trained in BARJ principles can prepare them for the process, which may include the option of facing their offender. Even if the case is concluded through a plea agreement rather than a trial, prosecutors can continue to work with victims to get them into post-disposition BARJ programming, which can empower them and further the healing process. It should be noted that victim participation in any restorative practice is strictly voluntary.

Crime can be traumatic. The criminal justice system has often been criticized for being insensitive, unresponsive to victim needs, and even causing further harm. Significant effort should be made not to re-victimize or blame the victim. BARJ seeks to treat victims with compassion and sensitivity in an environment that is attentive to each victim’s feelings and needs.