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Restorative Justice Sentencing Circle

Posted at: 04/25/2013 4:15 PM
Updated at: 04/25/2013 10:50 PM

In the fall of 2009, a 17-year-old broke into the home of a sleeping family in Carlton County.

"Our son was an addict. That's how this all started," explained Bill.

The teen was caught, and charged with burglary. But then he was given a chance to be part of a newer program called a "Restorative Justice Sentencing Circle."

"It was scary, and difficult at first," said Lori, the homeowner and victim of the crime.

Each week, she, the offender, his parents, community members, and circle keepers would meet. They would share, one by one, their pain, perspectives, and problems with the group.

Trained circle keepers guide the discussion, to make sure it's productive, safe, and healing.

"It's not the easy way. It's gut-wrenching," said Bill, the father of the offender.

But it worked. It gave Lori a sense of healing she really needed.

"It helped me realize he wasn't a monster. He wasn't a hardened criminal. He didn't come in here with a gun. He was a kid, who made a stupid mistake," Lori said.

She had been really afraid. And that fear can permeate in the community, like a ripple effect.

"We are trying to address that fear," said Laraine Mickelson, a trainer with the program. "To reduce that ripple effect, we give victims a voice and power in terms of how they want to communicate their experience with the offender."

The goal is accountability for the young person, and for he or she to truly understand what has taken place and the effects of the crime.

As part of the program, the entire group decides the sentence for the offender. In Bill and Lori's case, the teen had to speak about restorative justice at the Moose Lake prison and at UWS.

Bill said the sentencing circle was life saving. "It gave us our son back. He graduated high school, and is now in the Army National Guard."

Just 10 months into the circle process, Lori invited the whole group to Christmas dinner. She said that would never have happened without dealing with all of the issues associated with the break-in.

The sentencing circles started in 2010. Leaders said that 27 have been completed successfully. Carlton County funds the program.

Volunteers are welcome. Please call Paul Mickelson, the coordinator: 218-878-2893