An Interview with Catherine Strode
State Representative Pete Lee cites Colorado as the nation’s leader in restorative justice. During his tenure in the legislature, Representative Lee has introduced four bills championing the practice in Colorado’s criminal justice system. His most recent bill (HB17-1039) passed through the House this week. The bill expands communication issues in the practice of restorative justice. It was originally designed to provide more confidentiality to the process. However, that portion of the bill was struck. In an interview with Catherine Strode, Representative Lee says although the bill does expand restorative justice in two areas, it doesn’t go far enough.
How does Colorado compare to other states in its restorative justice initiatives?
“Restorative justice is a process that enables people who have committed harm to repair that harm to victims and the community. We’re the leader nationwide. Other states look to Colorado because it has the most extensive legislative framework for restorative justice of any other state in the Union. We’re the only state that has restorative justice sanctioned in the statute at all levels. We’re the only one that has a State Restorative Council. We’re the only one that has a state coordinator of restorative justice as part of the Council. We have dedicated funding to promote restorative justice in Colorado. I think legislators think about restorative justice when they are putting together other bills. I just read a bill by Representative Landgraf dealing with veterans’ courts. In Representative Landgraf’s veteran court bill, she has the deferral of people in that court system to restorative processes as well. Colorado is looked to as a model for other states. We are going to continue to push the agenda.”
How does House Bill 17-1039 expand the practice?
“This bill deals with two expansions of restorative justice. The percentage of cases in the criminal justice system that do not go to trial is 97 per cent. They are disposed of through a plea agreement between the district attorney and the defendant, or the defendant’s attorney. We are urging district attorneys and defense attorneys to talk about restorative justice during the plea discussions. The bill adds restorative justice to the list of things defense attorneys and prosecutors should talk about during their discussions. We’re just adding another element that we want to see utilized. We put another provision in there. The Probation Department should consider the suitability of defendants for participation in restorative justice when they are preparing their presentence investigative report, evaluating them for the proceedings in the courts.”
In what way do you think the bill comes up short on expanding restorative justice in Colorado’s criminal justice system?
“Initially, the purpose of the bill was to expand the conditions of confidentiality of things that are said in the course of a victim/offender process. There is already statutory confidentiality in Colorado for the restorative justice process. We were attempting to expand it. The bill would have expanded the scope of confidentiality to any preliminary discussions before a conference takes place and for discussions that take place after the conference. We ran into strong objections from the District Attorney who wanted people in the conference to report any admissions of crimes by offenders. They insisted that any admission of misconduct in conferences, prior to the conference, or subsequent to the conference, had to be reported by participants in the conference. Facilitators of restorative justice conferences are not Deputy District Attorneys. They are not law enforcement people. They should not be obligated to report information. We struck the entire proposed confidentiality section of the bill. The power of restorative justice is that it is based on people accepting responsibility for what they have done. If they cannot feel they can be totally forthright and candid in the scope and course of their conference, it casts a pale over the whole use of restorative justice.”
How do you envision the bill impacting your bigger vision of restorative justice?
“I’m hoping that it will increase awareness of restorative justice and increase the likelihood that people will be given the opportunity to participate in restorative justice. Restorative justice is a voluntary process so it is antithetical to require restorative justice. What we want to do is make more people aware of restorative justice. Putting it in the statute, where district attorneys and defense attorneys discuss it as part of their plea bargains, will increase awareness of restorative justice and require probation departments to give consideration to restorative justice. Basically, I’m trying to permeate restorative justice throughout the criminal justice system. This is just another step in the process.”
Catherine Strode is Advocacy Denver’s Communications and Policy Specialist. She holds a Masters degree in Public Administration with an emphasis in Health Care Policy. Catherine publishes Policy Perspective, featuring interviews with state policy makers on issues that affect the work and mission of Advocacy Denver.