By Erika Curtis, Communications Manager, Georgia Justice Project
ATLANTA, October 5th, 2022 – Georgia Justice Project (GJP) is excited to announce the launch of Restorative Justice Georgia (RJG) – the first restorative justice program in the state that will utilize innovative and rehabilitative processes to address harms caused by felony offenses. Restorative justice is a victim-centered process that facilitates dialogue among the person responsible for a crime and the person who was harmed by the crime and creates a path for accountability. Restorative Justice Georgia will work with District Attorneys around the state who will refer eligible cases where the victim of a crime is interested in participating in a facilitated dialogue. Local jurisdictions will determine eligibility of what cases they refer, and Restorative Justice Georgia will not accept cases of domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse and murder. The program officially launched on October 3rd, 2022.
As a part of the organization’s core mission, Georgia Justice Project demonstrates a better way to address criminal legal issues and serve justice-involved Georgians. GJP is launching Restorative Justice Georgia as another innovative and bipartisan approach to addressing complex problems within Georgia’s criminal legal system.
Restorative justice centers the voice of the victim and emphasizes accountability. “Although we like to say that we center the victims of crime in our traditional punitive system, many people instead report that they feel re-victimized by traditional processes, and that they do not have an opportunity to voice their concerns and fears,” said Rami El Gharib, Restorative Justice Program Manager for Georgia Justice Project. “Restorative justice allows victims to reclaim their voice by sharing their story, asking questions that they need answers to, and deciding what they need done to have the harm repaired to them. It allows individuals to feel heard and to move from ‘victims’ to ‘survivors.’”
Executive Director of the Prosecuting Attorney’s Council, Pete Skandalakis, remarked on why PAC is supportive of this effort: “The Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council is committed to the work of empowering victims of crime through new and innovative ways such as this Restorative Justice program. We are grateful to be a part of this project that centers victim voices while mitigating the negative effects that can often unintentionally come from trying to navigate through the criminal justice system.”
DeKalb and Douglas County District Attorney’s offices have been working with Georgia Justice Project to develop referral protocols and an outline for their agencies’ participation in the program. DeKalb County District Attorney Sherry Boston voiced her support of this effort: “We are excited to partner with Georgia Justice Project on this innovation in criminal justice. This work allows victims’ voices and needs to become an integral part of the discussion regarding offender accountability in a substantive, meaningful, and mutually beneficial way that stretches beyond traditional punitive measures.”
“We are excited to partner with Restorative Justice in Douglas County to provide victims an option for closure and accountability beyond the courtroom,” said Douglas County District Attorney, Dalia Racine. “In some cases, the criminal justice system may not be the only answer that a victim is looking for. By providing Restorative Justice as an option for our victims, they can choose to participate in a program that can provide a more holistic healing from the harms done to them. In addition, offenders can take true accountability for their actions and get a clear understanding of the impact of their criminal actions.“
GJP has also been working with a steering committee to shape the program as we prepare for launch, including former Chief Justice Harold Melton (partner at Troutman Pepper), former DeKalb County state court judge Dax Lopez, DeKalb County District Attorney Sherry Boston, Douglas County District Attorney Dalia Racine, the Prosecuting Attorney’s Council, and the Restorative Justice Advocates of Georgia.
What is Restorative Justice?
Restorative justice is a community-based approach to dealing with crime and harm that centers the voice of the victim and holds the person who committed the harm accountable for their actions. Through processes conducted by trauma-focused, trained and neutral facilitators in a safe and respectful environment, restorative justice examines the harm caused by an offense and seeks to repair that harm by giving victims a chance to express their needs and holding responsible parties accountable for their actions. This process allows individuals to make amends to the harmed person and the community, with a focus on accountability, healing, and reintegration.
“Restorative Justice adds another tool to the criminal justice toolbox,” said former Georgia Chief Justice Harold Melton. “By involving the offender in repairing the direct harm inflicted upon the victim, we hope to achieve more comprehensive outcomes that help heal the victim, reform the offender and increase public safety.”
Why is this needed in Georgia?
The time is right for the launch of Restorative Justice Georgia. Georgia has the highest rate of correctional control in the country (and the world), with 1 in 16 Georgians incarcerated, on probation, or on parole, compared to 1 in 37 nationally. Studies show that a restorative justice approach significantly reduces recidivism when compared to outcomes from the criminal legal system, and responsible parties are found to be much more likely to fulfill restitution requirements after engaging in a restorative justice process.
“Some people may be surprised to hear that Georgia Justice Project, an organization of defense attorneys, is so committed to a victim-centered process like restorative justice. But this innovative approach is a win for all involved,” said Doug Ammar, Executive Director of Georgia Justice Project. “GJP is all about practical and effective solutions to make our communities safer and healthier. Restorative justice can do that.”
For more information, please visit GJP.org/restorativejustice.
For 35 years, Georgia Justice Project (GJP) has served Georgians impacted by the criminal legal system. GJP approaches social change in three ways: through legal and social services – including holistic criminal defense, early termination of probation, criminal record clearing, and other reentry services; by advocating for a better Georgia, resulting in 22 changes to Georgia law so far; and by educating communities statewide on criminal justice and reentry issues. These approaches advance GJP’s goals to lower the number of Georgians under correctional control and reduce barriers to reentry. GJP recently hired an experienced Restorative Justice Program Manager, Rami El Gharib, to help GJP form Georgia’s first Restorative Justice center.