Aspen program tries mediation
In order to give victims of juvenile crimes another avenue other than prosecuting the children in court, the Aspen program was created in Douglas County.
“This is more beneficial than incarceration in the long run,” said John Enos, Aspen mediator, who said Aspen is based on restorative justice rather than punishing offenders as is done in the court system.
“The kids are not prosecuted by the court,” said Enos. “The only way back to the court is if an offender renegs on a contract. The program is diversionary to court.”
Enos said the first step in the process is referral by a juvenile offender to the Aspen program. He said the kids that get referred to the program are chosen by the county’s juvenile probation officers.
Enos said it is up to JPO to decide which offenders are right for the program and will benefit from the restorative justice process and which kids will abuse the opportunity.
“If they offend over and over, then the kids could see Aspen as a free ride,” said Enos. “Usually JPO does a good job. We don’t want it to be a free ticket for kids to get out of the criminal justice system.”
Enos said his first responsibility is to contact the offender after he has been referred by JPO and meet with him to make sure he is willing to participate in the restorative justice process.
“The program is funded by a JPO grant,” said Enos. “JPO supports the program and wants it to be successful.”
Next the victim is contacted, and if he agrees to participate, a joint meeting is arranged for the two parties to discuss the events and circumstances of the crime.
Enos said this is usually an emotional time for both victims and offenders as kids realize what hardships their actions may have caused others.
“The victim can ask the offender questions like, ‘Why us?’ or ‘What did we do to you?'” said Enos.
Enos said the next step is for the victim and offender to discuss an acceptable means of restitution.
“Restitution is up to the victim and offender,” said Enos. “It can be done in payments or the restitution can be paid back in work such as washing a victim’s car. It can include anything necessary and appropriate.”
Enos said future intentions are then discussed by victims and offenders and the question is asked, “Has there been healing?” He said it is very important that the kids have a felling of responsibility for what they did.
“We hope the next time they think doing something wrong, they will think that they could hurt someone, rather than, ‘I’m going to wind up in court,'” said Enos.
Rather than competing with the program, Enos said the local judges support it.
“Judges support the program and the court can order kids to participate,” said Enos. “Sometimes cases go through court and end up here because the judge feels the program will benefit the offender.”
“So far we haven’t have anyone reoffend against the the victim with whom they participate in the program,” said Enos. “We’ve had them reoffend against someone else, but that’s a low percentage.”
“Meeting victims can be a hard thing to do for the offenders, but they get their self esteem back,” said Enos. “Events like this can turn a whole juvenile life around.”