Accountability and Restorative Justice

by Ron Claassen

The City of Fresno Interagency (made up of most public and several community organizations) has set a goal of reducing crime in Fresno by 50 percent by the year 2000. I was recently asked to serve on the Community Corrections committee, an ad hoc committee charged with designing a plan.

Community Corrections can reduce crime by doing something with an identified offender so that he or she doesn't re-offend. One attempt to accomplish this is to do something to control the offender in a way they can't repeat.

Another way is to do something with an offender so they control themselves and decide not to repeat. People who have been observing VORP for over 14 years now believe that a VORP type response moves offenders in the direction of internal control.

Everyone agrees that accountability is a central component to reducing crime but we often mean very different things. I volunteered to work on this topic.

I started by asking a police officer what he thinks of when he thinks about accountability. He said that a kid needs to be punished every time he breaks the law. I said, "you want punishment." He said, "I want them to 'learn their lesson.'" I said, "you hope that what is done will help them learn something." He said, "I want them to accept responsibility for what they have done." We then talked about what we mean by responsibility and who an offender should be accountable to. We agreed on the following:

Accountability Is Successful If:

(1) The offender doesn't re-offend.

(2) The offender learns his/her "lesson" on how to live in community without violating others (this assumes a teaching/learning component).

(3) The accountability plan/agreement/decision has a positive, healing effect on those who have been violated by the offense (victim, community, (family).

(4) The offender emerges from the accountability process with greater respect for officials, community, and self.

(5) The accountability process creates stronger community and a safer environment.

(6) The accountability process is viewed as respectful, reasonable, and restorative by all parties (victim, community, family, offender, officials, etc.).

Proposed Accountability Process:

(1) Accountability is required for every offender.

(2) Accountability is to:

* Victim for personal, property, and relational violation.

* Community for violation of community standard of fairness and

safety (violation of law).

* Self and Family for personal, relational, and

goals/standards/values violation.

(3) Except in serious violence cases, offender and family are required to consider and encouraged to choose a cooperative accountability process (VORP, Community Justice Conference, Family Group Conference, etc.) to recognize the injustice, to make agreements to restore equity as much as possible, and to make agreements to prevent the same or a similar violation in the future.

(4) Cooperative accountability process agreements are made in presence of family, victim(s), and representatives of the community (may include school, faith community, business, police, probation, social services, (etc.) The victim, offender, and others craft an agreement that is acceptable to all present.

(5) If offender and family choose not use the cooperative accountability process or agree to the process but don't keep agreements made, an outside authority accountability process (peer court or police/probation team for minor offenses, court for more serious offenses) is utilized to impose appropriate sanctions (always tested by whether they are respectful, reasonable, and restorative for all parties).

(6) All agreements or imposed sanctions must be followed up.

In cooperative agreements family and friends assist probation in this follow-up. Completion of accountability plan successfully is celebrated.

VORP has been traditionally used to develop a part of an accountability plan (usually that part which addresses the violation of the victim).

Occasionally a VORP process is used to develop the entire plan. When we do that we usually increase the size of the group (including more family, more victim support, more community and system officials) and call the process a Community Justice Conference.

© 1996 Ron Claassen

Return to PACS Docs index