Now over 50 volunteers assist with resolving cases in the program
In 2019 the Englewood Municipal Court began the process of creating the Restorative Justice Program in hopes of resolving some conflicts in the community. Four years later, the program has grown. Ames Stenson, restorative justice program manager, said the purpose is to assist with resolving criminal conflicts within Englewood.
“Our Restorative Justice Program works with responsible parties and harmed parties of crime as well as community members to come to a community-based resolution and repairing harm from a crime that occurred,” Stenson said.
They said the program defines restorative justice as “a victim centered community based response to crime or conflict which then creates opportunities for accountability, repairing harm and restoring relationships.”
Stenson explained the first step to the restorative process is receiving case recommendations from the Englewood Police Department.
“Our city prosecutor reviews those cases and gives them a greenlight if they can come to the restorative justice program,” Stenson said.
They said there are two requirements that must be met for a case to be considered for the program.
“One is that if there is a directly harmed party, they have to give consent for the case to go through the program,” Stenson said. “Two the responsible party has to be taking some accountability for their actions.”
Judge Joe Jefferson said the program serves both adults and youth. He said the program won’t take cases in which a responsible party has existing arrest warrants, domestic violence cases and traffic violations only.
After a case is accepted into the program, Stenson said they speak with all parties and explain the process.
“If all of those things have been met then I’ll find volunteer facilitators for the case who then meet with those parties separately along with their support people,” Stenson said.
After this step, all parties including those responsible, those harmed, support systems, volunteer facilitators, community members and any others impacted are brought together for a “circle” or a Restorative Justice Conference.
Daryl Shute, community member and advisory committee member, said he has been with the program since the beginning and helped shape its structure.
“My second role is that I participate in the circles either as a community member or as a surrogate harmed party,” Shute said.
He explained in a circle as a community member he wants to “convey to the person that caused the harm what that impact had on the community.”
Shute said he has lived in Englewood for about six years, learning about the restorative justice when he lived in Denver.
He decided to join the program in Englewood because he really believes in the concept.
“I was very taken with the program and what it does to facilitate people staying out of the justice system,” he said. “I think it’s a very effective program.”
Stenson said those who volunteer receive training on the program and how to facilitate in a conference.
“The actual training to become a community member is a four hour training of really diving in deeper of what restorative justice is but also practicing the role of being a community member in the process,” they said.
Additionally, Stenson said during training people discuss the impact of the harm a party can do and brainstorm accountability items for the contracts made during the process.
“We offer ongoing professional development informally to our volunteers, Stenson said. “We offer mock circle practice sessions. We offer more specific training.” .
They said specific trainings include LGBTQIA+ inclusivity, trauma informed care and communication skills.
“If folks are interested in becoming facilitators we offer a 20 hour training in partnership with the Englewood School District,” Stenson said. “That’s a 20 hour training based on the guidelines of (the) (Restorative Justice) Council which is our statewide group of folks that are (appointed) to participate as state department heads.”
Stenson said the council is an entity through the State Court Administrator’s Office “that is there to help with the overall development of restorative justice in our state.”
For 13 years Stenson has been involved in restorative justice and joined the Englewood program after learning about it during Jefferson’s campaign.
“I participated in that community conversation in November of 2019 and then the city put out a request for proposals for a consultant to start in 2020 to work with folks in our community,” Stenson said.
Stenson said they were hired for the consultant position before becoming the director of the program which started taking cases in June of 2021.
Jefferson said the program is a service to the community and funded by the Englewood general fund and fees paid by participants. aJefferson said he is passionate about restorative justice because he believes in a community based approach to resolving conflicts and repairing relationships.
“Relationships in my mind really not only impact your behavior but also define a community as a whole,” Jefferson said. “It really creates this win-win-win opportunity…We’re a small town of less than seven square miles and if anywhere this could work it’s here.”
Stenson said the hope is that the program will grow into a more community based space so the practices can be used in other entities in addition to crime.
Stenson said the program has indeed grown over the last few years as it serves more people.
“There’s always room for improvement but we have systems in place for recommending and referring cases,” they said. “We now have more capacity within our community to be able to hold these circles…I think there’s a wider acknowledgement and understanding of restorative justice practices.”
Stenson explained there are currently over 50 volunteers in the program and those volunteers live in and around Englewood.
“We have data to show that this works and people really appreciate it,” Stenson said. “We have data around completion. We’re just now measuring data around recidivism rates.”
Shute said the program has grown wonderfully as the program “started from nothing.”
“Even though I think restorative practices and this whole idea is ancient…it’s not well known in our country so to introduce it here from nothing to where we are today…is exciting to see the responses,” he said.
Stenson said the program is just now starting to measure recidivism rates, which refers to additional criminal offenses.
Stenson said across the state and world, the data consistently shows a range from 8% to 10% of those who have successfully completed a restorative justice program reoffend.
“We’re going to be at least in that range if not below,” Stenson said.
Primarily those served through Englewood’s restorative justice program are youth which was the initial intention Stenson said.
“We went into this thinking we’re really going to home in and work with youth specifically and we have,” Stenson said. “I think at this point we have data to show about 80% of our cases are youth cases.”
They said at this point about 95% of the juvenile docket is going through the program, but as the program has grown it has also started taking adult cases.
Going forward Stenson said they are excited for so many things and ways the program will continue to develop.
“We just have such an amazing group of folks in our community who are excited and dedicated and really want to see these values and practices grow,” Stenson said.
Stenson said they are working with other cities and entities to implement restorative practices.
“It’s exciting to look at the possibilities of how we can continue to grow the use of restorative practices in the city itself, in different departments (and) in different ways,” Stenson said.
They said they are hopeful people will continue to remain engaged and eager to learn about the program and its values.
“I think there’s just no telling where we can expand to,” they said.
Shute said he’s looking forward to the expansion of the program as well and its impact.
“At some point I think it’s going to outgrow its bounds in the city and probably spill out into neighboring communities,” Shute said.
Overall Stenson said those who’ve participated in the program in any capacity have responded positively.
“This really does work. It’s not rocket science and it takes intentionality,” they said. “And it takes time and presence and attention and people feel that when they participate…We really honor and acknowledge humanness in this process and I feel wonderful to be a part of growing these kinds of practices in our community.”
For more information on the program visit https://www.englewoodco.gov/government/city-departments/municipal-court/restorative-justice.