by Lt. Marc Ediger
In a society with an ever increasing burden on our Criminal Justice System, we are pushed toward finding solutions that will enhance our communities, not continue to allow them to deteriorate. The Reedley Police Department has taken the step to look toward alternate solutions while embracing the philosophy of restorative justice and community as a whole.
The current Criminal Justice System as we know it has evolved into a process where dealing with offenders is the primary focus, with little time spent on the needs of the victim and restoring any wrongs within the community. Many relationships are not restored in this type of justice system. Often an offender does not have to take accountability for their actions, admit wrong doing, or have an opportunity to speak directly to the victims.
The Reedley Peace Building Initiative (RPBI) is a restorative justice process modeled from the Victim Offender Reconciliation Program (VORP). Restorative justice is a process whereby all parties with a stake in a particular offense come together to resolve collectively how to deal with the aftermath of an offense and its implications for the future, focusing on repairing the relationship at the same time. The offense is mediated between the offender, victim and a qualified conflict mediator.
The outcome is a contract signed between both parties in which they agree on how to restore the damage caused by the offense. In many cases it could result in community service hours, monetary restitution, letters of apology, attending self help type courses or other similar programs. The benefit for both sides is that a relationship can be created here or repaired, and for the offender, the criminal charge does not reflect on their permanent record.
The Victim Offender Reconciliation Program began in the Fresno County Justice System as early as 1982. The program focuses on low level juvenile offenders who had committed offenses including property crimes, graffiti, and other misdemeanor offenses. This program houses all of the cases for the County of Fresno, and was not community specific. This larger system has continued to become overloaded in recent years, with increasing case load and budgetary cuts to personnel.
The Reedley Peace Building Initiative was implemented in 2010 as a criminal justice tool designed to serve the victims and offenders of the Reedley Community. It began as a partnership with the Reedley Police Department and the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), which is a world-wide faith based organization. The partnership has allowed for increased participation in the program from outside groups and community members.
This restorative justice process allows for community to take care of community. Responsibility lies within members of Reedley’s community who volunteer to assist with mediation, community service and mentoring. The goal of this program is to provide services locally so all affected parties can resolve these issues without the added burden and cost of driving to the metropolitan area of Fresno, where most criminal and social services are located.
There are many viable options within a restorative justice program. It is a flexible and beneficial option to juvenile offenders who commit lower level crimes such as vandalism, graffiti, theft, curfew violations and minor physical altercations. The goal of the restorative process is to allow for accountability and hopefully deter a juvenile offender from traveling down a path of criminal behavior. However, the Reedley Peace Building Initiative is not designed to deal with offenses such as violent crime, sexual assault, or gang related criminal activity. There is still the need for the criminal justice system to deal with the larger more heinous crimes within our community.
The Reedley Police Department believes the addition of the Reedley Peace Building Initiative within our community will enhance our relationship with the public, enhance partnerships with community organizations and accomplish these goals without any added funding or cost to the community. If anyone would like further information please contact Lieutenant Marc Ediger with the Reedley Police Department at ReedleyRPBI@reedley.com.