Many who have spent time in jail end up as repeat offenders, because, as some experts claim, the real issues are not being ad-dressed by the punishment.


That could all change in Redwood County starting in January through a new restorative justice program being implemented called circle sentencing.


 

 


Historically, when a young person is charged with a crime, he or she goes before a judge to determine guilt and then to face the consequences of that crime.

That is what the public wants – punishment.

What those working in criminal justice are finding, however, is that system is not working. The penal system intended to punish with the belief those who pay for their crime won’t do it again is failing.

Many who have spent time in jail end up as repeat offenders, because, as some experts claim, the real issues are not being ad-dressed by the punishment.

That could all change in Redwood County starting in January through a new restorative justice program being implemented called circle sentencing.

Restorative justice looks at crime in a different way – as violations of people and relationships, and through a holistic process those who offend are shown ways to put things right.

That often means finding ways to heal relationships broken and to help those who commit the crime to see how their act impacted others and the community as a whole.

While there are a number of restorative justice programs available, the program Redwood County is planning to implement takes a different approach.

Circle sentencing is based in Native American culture, and it has at its core the belief that the best way to help those who have committed a crime, the victims and the community all restored is to create a partnership, a circle, through which volunteers help that youth repair the damage and reintegrate themselves into the community.

According to Julie Marth-aler, who coordinates the circle sentencing program in Yellow Medicine County, the program brings together the offender with volunteers from the community who create the community circle in which the issues facing the offender are addressed.

That could include anything from helping them with school academic issues to home life issues, said Patrick Rohland, Redwood County attorney.

Rohland and Abbey Gug-gisberg of Redwood County Human Services first brought the concept to the attention of the Redwood County Board. Both are strong supporters of it.

“This is a different avenue kids can take,”?said Guggis-berg, who said she became interested in the program after seeing the difference it made in Yellow Medicine County, especially in reducing out of home placements.

“I?have seen out of home placement costs go up every year,”?said Guggisberg. “I think circle sentencing can help curb that.”

Curbing out of home placement and keeping youth out of jails and detention centers should save the county major dollars as the program becomes more a part of the system.

The county board at its meeting this past Tuesday approved the circle sentencing program for the next three years at a cost of $60,000 per year.

For that money, the county is going to hire a coordinator who is going to take care of developing the circle and to recruit the volunteers for the program.

“Volunteers have been the least of my worries,”?said Marthaler, adding once people find out they are helping kids in their own community they are very interested in getting involved.

There are times when the victim is brought into  he circle, but at other times there is no interest on the part of the victim in facing the offender.

Marthaler said the circle is a long process, that includes the group getting together on a regular basis to talk about the issues important in helping restore relationships that have been broken.

It is not an easy process for the offender, and at times youth who start in the program find out it is not for them. In those cases, the traditional justice system is then utilized again.

According to Rohland, as county attorney, it is his office in collaboration with others, who would refer offenders to the program.

In order for the offender to take part, he or she must first admit guilt.

According to Marthaler, Yellow Medicine County has been utilizing circle sentencing since 2002, and the program has grown from one circle to six.

“Each circle is unique,” said Marthaler, adding some have been developed to address very specific issues in the community.

Does it work?

Marthaler said the recidivism rate drops significant among those who take part in circle sentencing in com-parison to the traditional system, adding the relationships developed exist long after the circle has ended.

Those involved are excited about the possibilities through circle sentencing, not only in financial savings but in what it could do to change the community.