Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office announces new restorative justice program

Survivor-driven program developed in partnership with Dispute Resolution Center

Generic image of a gavel. (Pixabay) (Pixabay)

ANN ARBOR – The Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office announced on Thursday the establishment of a survivor-driven restorative justice program.

Developed in partnership with the Dispute Resolution Center, the program will allow survivors of crime to choose whether they want to move forward in the criminal legal system or whether they’d prefer opting for restorative justice instead.

“If, and only if, survivors opt for restorative justice, the survivor and the person who committed harm work together with a trained facilitator to reach an individualized solution for how the survivor can be made whole,” reads a county release.

Below are the three elements of restorative justice, according to a news release:

  • The person who committed harm must acknowledge the harm done and take responsibility.
  • The person who committed harm, and the person harmed, must voluntarily work together and agree to a plan in which amends can be made.
  • The person who committed the harm, and all affected parties who desire to do so, must work together to determine the root causes of the harm and develop a plan to ensure that the harm will not reoccur.

Survivors of crime will now be given the option to participate in the program by a Victim Advocate from the Prosecutor’s Office before charges are authorized. If the survivor opts out of the program, the case will proceed with criminal charges in the traditional system.

Opting for restorative justice will place the charges on “hold” without filing them and work will begin to develop a plan to make amends.

“Far too frequently in the criminal legal system, we sideline crime survivors—and don’t give them a choice about how their case will proceed,” Washtenaw County Prosecutor Eli Savit said in a statement. “The restorative justice program announced today changes that.

“Survivors will be given the opportunity to chart their own course, and empowered to reach an outcome that works for them. We stand with survivors in the Prosecutor’s Office. And standing with survivors means listening to them.”

The Prosecutor’s Office will not authorize the underlying charges if the survivor and the individual who committed harm reach a solution, follow their plan to make amends and the would-be defendant goes 18 months without being accused of any new crimes.

If the process of restorative justice fails, or a new offense is brought forward against the would-be defendant, the Prosecutor’s Office may elect to proceed with the initial charges.

According to a county release, communities around the country have found that crime survivors tend to prefer restorative justice over the traditional system. It cited New York City’s robust program, where 90% of survivors opt to participate in restorative justice.

“This is an opportunity to both center crime survivors, giving them a voice in their own healing, and to promote true rehabilitation for those who cause harm,” Chief Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Burton-Harris said in a statement. “If we continue to simply punish without healing and restoration, we will continue to see the same harm done throughout our communities.

“Prosecutors file criminal charges against an individual on behalf of the state, not on behalf of the person who has been harmed. The traditional legal system all too often silences or disregards what someone needs after they’ve been harmed. Most often crime survivors want answers: ‘Why did you harm me?’ ‘Why did you choose me?’ ‘What happened to you to make you behave like this?’ ‘What do you need so that you don’t ever do this again?’ Restorative justice answers those questions and brings true healing to both survivors and those who have harmed them.”

The administration of the Washtenaw County program will be overseen by Burton-Harris, along with Victim/Witness Director Brenda Quiet, First Assistant Prosecutor Christina Hines and Victim Advocate Rachelle Wilson -- all of whom played central roles in the creation of the program.

“The DRC has been waiting for an opportunity to work with crime survivors and those who want to repair harm for a very long time,” executive director of the Dispute Resolution Center, Belinda Dulin, said in a statement. “We believe that when people are empowered to do the right thing, they will. 

“We believe when people are given the opportunity to problem solve, then can. We look forward to working with more community members, seeking not only just outcomes, but healing the harm.”

The Dispute Resolution Center is a nonprofit organization that offers residents of Washtenaw and Livingston counties restorative techniques to resolve conflicts. It has shared a more than two-decade partnership with Washtenaw County’s judicial system, facilitating alternative dispute resolution and mediation services.

Not all offenses will be eligible for the program, such as gun violence and other offenses that could threaten public safety. Cases involving sexual assault, victimization of children, intimate partner violence and those in which the individual who committed harm was in a position of authority over the survivor will not be eligible for the program.

To read the Prosecutor’s Office full restorative justice policy directive, click here.

About the Author:

Meredith has worked for WDIV since August 2017 and was voted one of Washtenaw County's best journalists in 2019 by eCurrent's readers. She covers the community of Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in International Broadcast Journalism from City University London, UK.