The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that restorative justice education sessions for some people arrested during episodes of civil unrest last year begins this weekend, describing the alternative approach to criminal justice as the city’s “first attempt at a restorative model for adult offenders.”
“The plan simply put is to have accountability without the necessity for convictions,” said Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, who has established the reputation as one of the country’s most progressive prosecutors. “The plan is to make sure that as best we can the defendants and the defense satisfy their obligations to the people they harmed, which includes some small business owners, many of them business owners of color.”
Restorative justice generally involves organizing a meeting between the victims and perpetrators of crime and other community members. The objective includes sparking constructive dialogue, discussing the harm caused by an offense, and the best way to arrive at a resolution. Proponents say the process focuses on the best ways to repair the damage caused, strengthening communities, and allowing individuals to avoid convictions and jail time for low-level offenses.
According to the Inquirer, Krasner’s charging unit supervisor, Lyandra Retacco, referred about 80% of the cases related to uprisings last year to a new program called Civil Unrest Restorative Response, which aims to avoid prosecution for more than 500 defendants, most with no prior arrests on their records. The outlet reports, “Retacco said those being considered for the restorative response were accused of conduct like fleeing Rite Aid with ‘a lot of makeup,’ being inside a closed GameStop, running a ‘human assembly line’ passing merchandise out of a Walgreens, and being caught in a closed Snipes sneaker store with more than 100 other people, many of whom escaped.”
Real Justice PAC, a political action committee co-founded by black liberation activist Shaun King that works to elect reform-minded prosecutors like D.A. Krasner, called the idea “a groundbreaking program.”
“This is how we uplift communities instead of criminalizing them,” the organization tweeted on Friday.
A groundbreaking program by Philadelphia DA @DA_LarryKrasner will allow hundreds arrested for minor theft during last year’s uprisings to repair the harm caused instead of facing jail time.
This is how we uplift communities instead of criminalizing them.https://t.co/2sTrND0pSk
— Real Justice (@RealJusticePAC) March 26, 2021
As the Inquirer reported, “more than 900 businesses were damaged or burglarized in the unrest in May and June, by the city’s count,” while “about 250 suffered similar losses in October after the police shooting of Walter Wallace Jr. in West Philadelphia,” and:
On the one hand, the victims — small business owners and big corporate chains alike — had sustained millions of dollars in damage during last year’s uprisings against police brutality. On the other, the accused perpetrators were so impoverished virtually all qualified for public defenders, meaning they’d likely never be able to pay restitution. …
District Attorney Larry Krasner said a creative response was warranted given the unique motivation of the crimes: “an outcry” during a historic moment of protest against the police killing of George Floyd.
A spokesperson for Democratic Mayor Jim Kenney told The Inquirer that city leaders and law enforcement officials tentatively back the new strategy so long as individuals accused of violent crimes and offenses against police officers remain ineligible to participate.
Meanwhile, some business owners and community members have likened the program to giving criminals a pass, claiming the D.A. office is prioritizing protecting lawbreakers over the victims of their crimes.
Municipal Court President Judge Patrick F. Dugan said in a statement this week that he has not yet determined whether to accept offers to drop charges for those who complete the new program successfully.
“As a proponent of proven and effective diversion, I look forward to seeing their proposal,” he said.
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