• December 5, 2020

Restorative Justice and Legal Cannabis: It’s Common Sense

 Restorative Justice and Legal Cannabis: It’s Common Sense

By: Kathleen McGoey, Executive Director of Longmont Community Justice Partnership

When I talk to someone new to the concept of restorative justice, the most common responses I hear are: “That sounds like common sense. Why aren’t we doing more of that? This country needs more restorative justice!” The data tells us that beyond the appeal of a common sense, community-empowering model, restorative justice produces real results that create safer, healthier communities. A recent study of 11 years of LCJP data studying 2,200 youth and adult offenders who completed the program shows that only 3.5% of those offenders recidivated (reoffended) during that time, compared to national rates somewhere around 60-70%.* Just as importantly in a country that relies heavily on a system that often disregards the needs and voices of victims, 100% of victims participating in LCJP’s programs report feeling that the offender in their case was held accountable for their actions. 

The Longmont Community Justice Project (LCJP) restorative justice process offers an alternative to the criminal justice system by providing a space for victims and offenders to resolve crime through group dialogue involving community volunteers and local law enforcement. Instead of crime being framed as a violation against the state that is remedied through punishment, restorative justice reframes crime as an act that causes harm to relationships and violates trust, and therefore can be addressed through a process centered around accountability and active relationship repair. 

The greatest challenges confronting the expansion of restorative justice are community awareness and funding. And here is where community partnerships with the for-profit industry become so crucial to expansion of this paradigm-shifting model. 

Regarding funding…

LCJP was approached in 2017 by Terrapin Care Station,  a medical and adult-use cannabis company in Boulder County. At the time, LCJP was not receiving sponsorship from any other corporate group, and I jumped at the opportunity. Enthusiasm for the partnership grew rapidly as I talked with Terrapin’s communication director about what a mutually beneficial partnership model could look like. As a non-profit with a diverse range of revenue streams, including federal grant funding often sourced from the Department of Justice, I had to do my due diligence in researching whether or not accepting cannabis money could jeopardize other funding sources. Beyond federal monies, might we risk losing donor support or stakeholder (i.e. police) buy-in by affiliating ourselves with the cannabis industry? After multiple conversations with authorities at the municipal, county and state levels, I was met with a clear and confident “no,” we would not be at risk of losing other funds as a result of partnering with Terrapin. With this information, my boss- the LCJP Board of Directors- granted approval for me to move forward with exploring sponsorship with Terrapin. 

I chose to propose that Terrapin’s initial sponsorship be allocated to LCJP’s Volunteer Training program versus direct support of our casework because we receive referrals for juvenile marijuana possession and consumption cases. By assigning Terrapin’s sponsorship to our Volunteer Training program, I could show that  LCJP and Terrapin have shared goals around community engagement and youth use prevention. This creates more opportunity for LCJP to regularly publicly name Terrapin as an LCJP partner with members of the Longmont community throughout the year. 

Regarding awareness…

LCJP and Terrapin both benefit from increased awareness about our organizational values and presence in the local community. I have been impressed again and again by the Terrapin staff’s sincere commitment to building relationships with me and the LCJP staff, board, and volunteers. From attending each other’s events to networking and creating opportunities for each other to be recognized and appreciated for our work, the intangible impacts of our partnership are substantial and continue to grow. LCJP people speak highly of Terrapin and its commitment to the Longmont community within their own circles, and similarly Terrapin and its employees help get the word out about LCJP’s restorative justice work. The irony of the reality that dollars from the legalized cannabis industry can be applied to fund restorative justice, a strategy to keep people out of the system, while low-level drug charges continue to be used to incarcerate certain individuals in certain states throughout this country, is lost on few. We see the ripple effect of this partnership contributing to the restorative paradigm shift. I am curious and looking forward to what LCJP and Terrapin will accomplish together next! 

*(though it is important to note that this national figure includes factors such as offender demographics and offense types that are not an apples-to-apples comparison with LCJP referrals). 

About LCJP’s Community Restorative Justice Program:

In Longmont, LCJP’s Community Restorative Justice process offers an alternative to the Criminal Justice system by providing a space for victims and offenders to resolve crime through group dialogue involving community volunteers and local law enforcement. This revolutionary pre-file diversion approach (meaning no criminal charges are ever filed against the offender if they successfully complete the program, keeping their record clean) requires a paradigm shift for how we address crime and its repercussions. Instead of crime being framed as a violation against the state that is remedied through punishment, restorative justice reframes crime as an act that causes harm to relationships and violates trust, and therefore can be addressed through a process centered around accountability and active relationship repair. 

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