Listen to the full piece:
The American criminal justice system seems pretty simple: After someone commits a crime, they’re convicted, sentenced and sent to prison. Time is served and people are released. But the disturbing fact is that 40-percent of the people leaving prison will be back.
But there’s another way of looking at crime and punishment – it’s called restorative justice. And as Christie Thorne reports, it’s a movement that’s taking off across the country.
[AMB: Fade Up and Hold Under, Driving in car with Vicky to scene of accident (Engine, Turn Signal)]
On a recent sunny afternoon, Vicky Ruvolo takes a right turn onto Sunrise Highway in Ronkonkoma, a quiet Long Island town. We arrive at a spot less than five minutes from her house. Vicky says this is where she almost died nine years ago.
See, I think it happened right over here at this miniature golf place.
Just before Thanksgiving in 2004, Vicky was driving home from a fun night out with her family. Four teenagers were approaching in an oncoming car. The kids were joyriding, on a shopping spree with a stolen credit card. As the two cars passed, 18-year-old Ryan Cushing hurled a large object out of the window, aiming it right at Vicky. It was a 20-pound frozen turkey…
That went into my windshield, hit me in the face and nearly killed me. I didn’t wake up until over a month later.
She was knocked out on the spot.
[AMB: Drop Out "Driving in car"]
Vicky’s injuries were so severe that she spent a month in a medically induced coma, and another five recovering.
It took the police less than a week to identify the teenagers. Ryan eventually turned himself in. He was facing up to 25 years in prison for first-degree assault and reckless endangerment.
He was going to be wasting his whole life – he was going to lose 25 years to sit and rot in jail for a stupid, ridiculous act.
Vicky didn’t understand the benefit of punishing Ryan. Her emotional struggle was just as challenging as the physical. Still in rehab, Vicky prayed. And she came to a realization: that she had to forgive.
Because that’s the biggest thing that people forget. Is that forgiveness, isn’t about that other person. It’s all about you. Because when you forgive you’re letting go of all that anger, that pain, that negativity. It actually releases you.
Vicky asked that Ryan be given leniency. She didn’t want him to spend more than 6 months in jail.
At the sentencing hearing, Vicky and Ryan met face-to-face for the first time. At the end of the day, Ryan walked over to where Vicky was sitting with her family.
And he stood in front of me and was just crying profusely, just crying. Talking through his tears just saying, “I never meant this to happen. I prayed for you every day. I’m so glad you’re doing well.”
Then, she hugged him.
The only thing I could do was coddle him like a child. And I told him, “Just take this experience and do something good with your life.”
In response to Vicky’s request, the judge sentenced Ryan to six months in jail, five years of probation and a year of community service.
Ryan spent that year working with Dr. Robert Goldman, who was the supervising psychologist at the Suffolk County Probation Department. Goldman had developed an innovative restorative justice program called TASTE.
[AMB: Fade Up and Hold Under, Vicky & Robert greet one another at restaurant (Waitress, Dishes)]
I was seeing children in the juvenile justice system graduate into the adult criminal justice system.
Goldman had spent a little over a decade as a criminal defense attorney. And most of his defendants were children. He noticed a problem. Not just in Long Island, but across the country.
Like Vicky, I really didn’t know what restorative justice was, I just knew what we were doing wasn’t right.
Restorative justice is an alternative to a purely punitive approach. The movement focuses on the needs of both victims and offenders and gives both parties an opportunity to heal and learn from a criminal experience.
Psychologist Jacques Verduin has pioneered several restorative justice programs in California prisons:
Where you get to stare down your demons, confront your actions and name your victim in front of everybody. That’s tough on crime.
Verduin says that the current system isn’t doing anyone any good.
You know, to run a system that is so heavy on custody and so little on creating opportunities for people to change their ways, is in many ways a disservice to public safety. It’s time for us to start investing in keeping people out of prison rather than in prison.
Right now, 1 in 34 Americans are under some form of correctional supervision – that’s close to 7 million people in prison, jail, parole or probation.
Across the board, about 95 percent of all prisoners eventually get out. And they get out to be somebody’s neighbor. So how do you want them to come out? Punished, clueless, not having learned anything? Or educated, evolved and a bit more humble?
Ryan Cushing is a good example of the latter. Vicky still keeps in touch with him.
Now he’s off probation, now he’s got a job, he’s got his own apartment, now he’s paying taxes like the rest of us – instead of our taxes paying for him to rot in jail!
Vicky knows how much Ryan took away from the experience. She says that she gained, too.
I got my life, what better gift is there? And I was just glad that I could do that for him.
Right now, Ryan’s outcome is the exception and not the norm. But more and more restorative justice programs are being implemented across the country. And in New York City, the method is even being introduced in some schools.
Christie Thorne, Columbia Radio News.