| Angelica J. Core
EASTHAMPTON – The Easthampton Police Department is one of six police departments to join Communities for Restorative Justice (C4RJ), a program that diverts adults out of the criminal justice system.
The program includes Northwestern District Attorney David E. Sullivan and five other police chiefs from Amherst, Hadley, Northampton, South Hadley, and Ware.
“Restorative justice is an age-old philosophy dating back to a time before we had actual laws in place. Restorative Justice works hand in hand with communities like Easthampton that practice Community Oriented Policing. The Easthampton Police Department has always strived to break the mold of the average police officer. Trying new things, working with the community, and adopting programs that work is the key to successful neighborhood policing,” said Officer Mitchell Cichy Jr.
The C4RJ will offer the residents of Easthampton an alternative to both the victim and the offender of a crime. Cichy said the goal of restorative justice is to give the victim in certain situations a chance to voice to the offender how the crime has impacted them and the victim may decide their healing process does not include the incarceration of the offender. It also allows the offender to face the victim and learn about their mistake and possibly learn a valuable life lesson from the experience.
“C4RJ has had a high success rate in preventing recidivism. The start of this program will be focused on adults. The Northwest District Attorney’s Office has been working with juveniles for many years and has already adopted the Restorative Justice Program within the organization when dealing with juvenile crime,” Cichy said.
Cichy said very few juveniles get charged with a crime unless it is serious. They have alternative methods such as letters of apology, community service, and presenting to peers that are used in place of starting or continuing a criminal record that can follow a person for their entire life. Adults will have similar methods including circle groups, task lists, and any other recommendations which are agreed upon and completed over a specified period.
Each of the six police departments under the guidance of the District Attorney’s Office will set their criteria for C4RJ. Cichy said the crimes set forth for referral are on a case by case basis, typically involving but not limited to crimes against the community. For example, assault and battery, breaking and entering, larceny, vandalism. A broad criteria that will be used is an offender is taking responsibility, a victim is not vetoing the referral, and a safe process can be assured.
Cichy said police officers and the District Attorney’s Office are tasked with checking if the case meets certain criteria before handing it over to the board for approval. Before a referral can be brought forward for approval, both the victim and the offender must agree and see the importance of not bringing forth criminal charges which may change the destiny of an individual. The victim or offender can decide not to participate in the process and turn to the normal legal proceeding.
Community volunteers then will have the responsibility of seeing the process all the way to the end, developing a set of terms with a timeline, and seeing that the offender completes their part.
“There is a lot of responsibility put on the shoulders of our volunteers. That is what makes the selection process so critical,” said Cichy.
Volunteers will be trained in restorative practices and the C4RJ process throughout the fall and will begin receiving referrals from police departments in early 2021. Cichy said volunteers can from all walks of life and will be chosen based on their experience, areas of expertise, along with the willingness to understand the philosophy behind restorative justice.
“The goal is to have 10 trained members by January 2021. Volunteers will undergo extensive training by members of the C4RJ program who have studied this philosophy for many years,” Cichy said.