A man who accidentally fired a gun inside his apartment. A woman who was harassed by a man in an Uber. A person who vandalized a building.
Those are among the 65 minor criminal cases sent to the Denver district attorney’s year-old restorative justice program — a hands-on alternative to the traditional court system that focuses on the people involved in the crime, the impact on the larger community and how offenders who take responsibility can repair the damage done by their actions.
Unlike the adversarial, largely punitive and often cookie-cutter approach in the regular court system, the restorative justice process creates deeply individualized responses to crimes through meetings between offenders, community members and sometimes victims.
Defendants are referred to the program by the district attorney’s office, who so far during the first year have focused on people facing misdemeanor charges, those with only a single pending case against them and those who were not in jail.
If the participants successfully complete the restorative justice process, which typically takes between three and six months, then the district attorney’s office dismisses the criminal charges against them.