Submitted by Communities for Restorative Justice
Gathering steam since it began in 2000, Communities for Restorative Justice (C4RJ) produced and screened a film about the program that serves 12 towns, including Bedford. C4RJ screened Finding Courage: Addressing Harm with Restorative Justice Circles at Bedford’s Old Town Hall on November 14.
Restorative justice responds to crime by inviting those most affected – victim, offender, supporters – to talk about what happened and address needs. At C4RJ, this process typically takes place before the traditional court process, with the consent of the victim. A circle made up of offender and family, victim and family, a police officer familiar with the case, and a volunteer from C4RJ that guides the frank discussion, eventually leading to a specific plan of repair.
It is an emotional journey, as depicted in the 30-minute grant-funded film. Professional actors played the roles of victim and offender, unraveling the motives behind the crime and hearing the hurt that was inflicted. The film was produced by Arlington company, Reflection Films, with a script by C4RJ case coordinator Christy Barbee.
Margot Fleischman, C4RJ board member and Bedford Selectman said in her welcome at the event, “I was drawn to this work because I believe strongly in the mission.”
Bedford’s Chief Robert Bongiorno acknowledged he wasn’t convinced about the restorative justice approach at first. “As a police officer, I was a skeptic,” said Bongiorno. “But I quickly became a believer. I’ve seen this process work.”
State Sen. Jamie Eldridge from Acton introduced a bill into the state Legislature that would give judges and prosecutors the option of referring cases to a restorative process alongside the traditional court system. Senate Bill 52 is co-sponsored by Rep. Ken Gordon of Bedford who also attended the screening on November 14.
“This legislation represents an important juncture in the work,” said Jennifer Larson Sawin, C4RJ’s Executive Director, adding, “Restorative justice is being embraced by many communities because it’s effective and meaningful. Legislation would make it available more widely to people affected by crime.”
To learn more about C4RJ, a nonprofit partnership of community and police departments, visit www.c4rj.com. The film Finding Courage will be screening elsewhere in the region through the winter and will be made available to the public in Spring 2014.