Mass incarceration and steadily increasing crime rates have become an epidemic in the United States. The goal of our justice system has always been to produce a positive change in behavior. This is not happening with the standard criminal justice procedures we have in place today. Instead, current procedures serve only to perpetuate and escalate the problem. Now, more than ever, our communities have a pressing need for a solution that will create long-lasting change.
Standard prosecution for non-violent offenses often leads to a conviction, incarceration and/or probation. The overuse of probation is our biggest problem. In Georgia, our probation services are run by private companies. Nonviolent people have been sentenced to unreasonably long periods of probation in order to turn a profit. Who pays for this excessive supervision? YOU DO. The money you pay in taxes could be earmarked for improving your child’s education, getting you access to better healthcare, fixing roads and increasing safety in your neighborhood, but instead, your tax dollars are funneled into a system that isn’t working. The standard system perpetuates this strain on the economy. Another issue with standard prosecution is that it perpetuates crimes. Once a person is convicted, obtaining gainful employment becomes difficult if not impossible. The conviction blocks access to federal student aid which prevents people from pursuing higher education. If that isn’t enough, a conviction also restricts people from acquiring housing resources, leaving them facing possible homelessness. This type of punishment alienates people from society. The psychological effects of alienation lead to desperation and hopelessness which is the underlying basis for criminal behavior. Standard criminal justice procedures are actually creating a breeding ground for recidivism.
Restorative justice programs are the solution.
We here in Georgia lead our nation in criminal justice reform. Restorative justice programs are the next step. Restorative justice programs hold people accountable for crime in a different way. Victim restitution is made directly or indirectly. Restorative justice focuses on rehabilitation through education, mentoring and meaningful community experiences. This cultivates a sense of belonging and personal accountability to society. By intervening immediately after a person’s first arrest we can redirect the lives of young men and women to keep them out of the criminal justice system – permanently.
Restorative justice programs reverse the detrimental effects of standard prosecution. This new tradition in law enforcement reduces crime, eliminates probation and ends recidivism. Everybody benefits. At one-third of the cost of probation, these programs not only free up taxpayer money to reinvest in our communities, but they boost the economy by cultivating more taxpaying, law-abiding citizens. No more self-perpetuating drain on our resources. The benefits are more than just short term. Over time the benefits to our community include a measurable economic boost, reduced unemployment rates, and increased safety in our neighborhoods.