This article originally appeared in ‘Command: The Official Publication of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police‘.

Two days before his inauguration, now-Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker published his stance on issues facing Illinoisans and how he and his administration were planning to solve them. One issue – mass incarceration – was a central campaigning point for Governor Pritzker, who was ardent in his desire to implement restorative justice as a viable alternative to punitive justice. To assist in implementing restorative justice principles in Illinois, Governor Pritzker proposes the creation of the Office of Criminal Justice Reform and Economic Opportunity, an agency that will “focus on making sure the services people need are being delivered and prevent people from entering the system in the first place.” His recently formed Restorative Justice and Safe Communities Committee, a 42-member panel that is advising the Pritzker administration in achieving the new office’s goals, places the governor one step closer to creating a “system that diverts youth and adults from incarceration in the first place, modernizes sentencing, encourages rehabilitation, and works to reduce gun violence and create economic opportunity.” The Illinois chiefs are proud to have representation on that 42-member committee.

In 2018, the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police (ILACP) reaffirmed its commitment to procedural justice – as one of the Ten Shared Principles with the Illinois NAACP – and the vital importance of incorporating fairness in processes, voice, transparency in actions, and impartiality in decision making.6 Over the past several years, many Illinois police chiefs have focused significant attention, energy and effort implementing procedural justice programs. After the Governor’s announcement on Restorative Justice, the question has been raised by police chiefs – how do these efforts match up with the Governor’s priorities?

Restorative Justice: A Simple Definition

Discussions about the theory of restorative justice often veer off into other related topics, but the core definition is relatively simple: it is a process in which “all parties with a stake in a specific offense come together to resolve collectively how to deal with the aftermath of the offense and its implications for the future.”[1] The goal is to bring together the whole community and the individuals affected to “put key decisions into the hands of those most affected by crime, make justice more healing, and reduce the likelihood of future offenses.”[2] For example, an offender can be brought into a hearing with family, friends and community members to “reconnect the offender to their sense of responsibility to the community.” The Illinois Juvenile Justice community has been implementing restorative justice practices for several years. This includes family group conferences, peace circles, community services and restitution and victim impact panels. On the adult side, restorative justice programs focused on offenders returning to the community from prison, require those returning offenders to take accountability for their actions and enter into agreements with the community that may focus on restitution, community service, and letters of apology. Repairing criminal harm done to the community by having the community repair itself is a crucial way to build a sense of responsibility that will hopefully have lasting impact on increasing recidivism and strengthening neighborhoods.[3] Encouraging feelings of “responsibility to family, friends, and community will enhance commitment to self-regulatory actions…against future transgressions of the law.”5

Like restorative justice, procedural justice is also community-oriented in practice. While both theories, however, advocate community voice and involvement in justice-related matters, procedural justice places a greater emphasis on the idea of overall fairness and respect for people in all criminal justice encounters, especially those involving minority and protected class individuals. Some of the most significant negative discourse surrounding policing over the past several years has been driven by the perception that our minority communities are often treated differently by the police. In many communities this has drastically reduced public confidence in the police. The goal of procedural justice is to treat all people fairly, impartially and equitably in their encounters with the police, in a process that is transparent, understood and effective in providing a real voice to any individual or community during any type of police encounter.8

This process is designed to lead to a greater willingness on the part of the public to obey laws, “improving community perceptions of police legitimacy,” and a decrease in crime rates. The first pillar of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing is to “build and rebuild trust through procedural justice, transparency, accountability, and honest recognition of past and present obstacles.” Procedural justice is crucial to the success of community policing, as is restorative justice. Whenever the community is involved and individuals feel as if their voices are heard in every step of the legal process, it is a step in the right direction for rebuilding the relationship between law enforcement and the communities they serve. Essentially, procedural justice is related to an individual’s sense of obligation and responsibility to authorities. Law enforcement officials can help to develop trust and increase this sense of obligation by engaging in procedural justice practices. Restorative justice is more focused on a person’s relationship with friends, family, victims and their community and their feelings of not wanting to disappoint those individuals and groups.

Proactive Community Engagement Builds Trust

While procedural justice and restorative justice are not the same theory, they integrate key aspects of strengthening the community from within. Whether by advocating communal ownership of healing from crime or fostering a more transparent and fair criminal justice system, both procedural and restorative justice seek to encourage everyday compliance with the law through a better understanding of individuals’ place in society as valuable community members.  We see these components as equally valuable and vital to continual advancement in policing by giving greater voice to those who must drive how our communities are polices – the communities themselves. Both programs drive the latest advancement in community policing where police agencies work hand-in-hand with the community to develop policing strategies up front, including policies and practices that provide for community-focused policing that is consistent with community expectations of police service.  This is what puts true meaning in a community’s voice.

A Great Start for The Governor – A Great Opportunity for Illinois Policing

The Governor has made the advancement of restorative justice in Illinois a priority – for his administration and stakeholders across Illinois. Since this will be a statewide initiative, law enforcement agencies should consider their approaches to restorative justice and procedural justice as they relate to holistic community policing. This presents a real opportunity for local law enforcement agencies to open new dialogues with the Governor’s office and with their local communities to identify ways to better serve juveniles and returning offenders, including potentially implementing restorative justice techniques. Police chiefs should view this as a much-needed step towards healing law enforcement-community relations that have been fractured.

 

[1] Marshall, T.F. (1999) Restorative Justice: An Overview. Great Britain: Home Office.

[2] Sharpe, S. (1998) Restorative Justice: A Vision for Healing and Change. Edmonton, Canada: Edmonton Victim Offender Mediation Society.

[3] Tyler, T.R. (2006). Restorative Justice and Procedural Justice: Dealing with Rule Breaking. Journal of Social Issues, 62(2). 315-316.

 

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