Restorative justice needs more support nationwide.
A dozen troubled men and women from Hempstead, N.Y., got an unusual break this month. They had been caught on tape selling drugs, and as repeat offenders faced serious prison time. But after attending a community meeting, at which they endured the scoldings of neighbors and promised a prosecutor that they would stay out of trouble and take advantage of social services like drug treatment, they walked free.NY TIMES Editorial
It sounds a little like the prayer-meeting scene from “Guys and Dolls,” in which a cynical bunch of gamblers grit their teeth through a public show of piety to pay off a bet. A few lawyers, police officers and a local columnist instantly accused the Nassau County district attorney, Kathleen Rice, of rewarding criminals, presumably out of a touchy-feely preference for second and third chances over tough justice.
Ms. Rice, however, is no storefront missionary. She was elected in 2005 on a promise to bring fresh ideas and new energy to an office that had been on autopilot for years. Since then she has been aggressive and innovative in tackling chronic problems like drunken driving, which she has pursued with high-profile prosecutions and a policy of refusing all plea bargains.
The Hempstead initiative was inspired by the work of David Kennedy, a criminal-justice expert who, while at Harvard, developed an acclaimed strategy for reducing violent crime in Boston that was later used in other cities. The idea is to bring multiple forces to bear, not just cops and courts. In Boston, gang leaders were summoned to “call-ins,” meetings with ministers and prosecutors, and told to obey the law or face long sentences. The resulting plunge in violent crime — one gun death in two and a half years — was called the “Boston miracle.”
Hempstead, which has struggled for years with poverty and drug crime, could use something similar. Its residents complained for years about a notorious open-air drug market to no great effect. Dealers and buyers would be arrested, but sent through the wash-rinse-repeat cycle of justice, which was never enough to set them straight.