In just a month, Indiana will be closing one of its minimum security prisons, Henryville Correctional Facility–a move which will hopefully assist the state’s new emphasis on corrections reform.
In 2014, the Indiana House of Representatives passed legislation that reroutes prisoners from state facilities into local jails. The problem with this is that jails are now becoming overcrowded. The hope is that by closing Henryville and moving its 140 residents into other facilities, the state will save $2.25 million. These funds can then be redirected toward community corrections approaches like electronic monitoring and potential treatment programs for many of those currently serving time in county jails.
Similarly, Chicago is trying something different in its approach to those who commit low-level crimes. Starting in early 2017, a grant from the Department of Justice will establish the Restorative Justice Community Court, an initiative to involve members of the Cook County community in finding the most appropriate and restorative punishments for 18- to 26-year-olds who commit nonviolent crimes.
Members of the court will work to help restore the relationship between those convicted of crimes and those impacted by their crimes. This will hopefully take the form of letters of apology, meaningful community service, and peace circles where those convicted will meet with their victims to discuss what led to their crime and how they can avoid it in the future. The court will also help those convicted of crimes seek the help they need: education, job training, or mental health services.
“It’s easy to go through a pinch of time in jail, in the sense that you don’t have to sit down with the person you harmed, talk about why you did it, express remorse and figure out what it will take to restore the harm,” said Clifford Nellis, who heads a local Christian legal clinic. “Wouldn’t the most just outcome be that people experience some sort of healing and restoration of the situation? I don’t think we talk that way. I don’t think we think that way.”
At the same time, the success of this exciting initiative totally depends on community support.
“A restorative justice community court cannot operate without robust community engagement. If the community’s not buying it and they’re not going for it, then it’s not going anywhere,” Nellis adds.