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Do Alternative Sentences Work in Columbus for First-Time or Young Offenders?

Posted On: January 15th, 2021   |   Posted by: Luftman, Heck & Associates LLP
Gavel for sentencing

Alternative sentencing can work for first-time or young offenders who find themselves in a cycle that’s hard to break. After all, when someone becomes part of the “pipeline to prison,” it’s harder to get an education or a job, so they rely on crime to earn an income. The hope is alternative sentencing will prevent this spiral.

Franklin County’s Restorative Justice Circles Program is one example. It’s a community based and Court operated diversion program that provides an alternative response from the juvenile justice system. It’s for first-time offenders who’ve committed misdemeanor offenses. It’s based on accountability to the victim and the community.

The Program Tries To Put the Teen on the Right Path

The Community Restorative Circles (CRC) are an arm of the Court of Common Pleas. They bring together the offender, their parents or guardians, the victim, and community volunteers. It tries to address all the parties’ needs while understanding the offender and what lead to the offense.

Circle participants discuss the offense, ask questions, and decide how the offender should take responsibility.

How CRC Works

The program creates a comprehensive, collaborative plan of action signed by all parties. The goal is that the individual will make better decisions, change behaviors, and improve public safety. If successful, the offender won’t have a formal court record.

An offender qualifies if he or she:

  • Is referred by a Juvenile Court Magistrate or the Juvenile Intake/Diversion Department
  • Is between 11 and 17 years old at the time of the offense
  • Acknowledges their involvement
  • Has parental or guardian consent

The plan of action may include:

  • An apology to the victim or parent
  • Community service
  • Writing a research paper on the violated law
  • Writing an essay on a topic chosen by the Circle

Ohio Alternative Sentences: Theory Meets Reality

The process starts with a meeting, now done virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Court News Ohio. A program coordinator and community volunteers gather information from the offender.

They want to know what the teen was thinking at the time of the offense, who was impacted, and how they want to repair the harm. The group also tries to get to know the teen and develop a relationship.

The youth and parents then propose ideas about the next meeting and how to take responsibility for their actions. The group comes up with a plan and assignments tailored to each child.

Some Success Stories

Last August, a Circle in Columbus assigned a youth an essay about federal and state laws covering marijuana possession and local curfews. Other offenders have written songs or poems to express their feelings, worked at community recreation centers, helped elderly residents, and performed community service.

Toledo’s Junction Coalition brings together 10 to 15 youths and their parents. The program takes eight weeks. Each child must attend two-hour sessions three days a week. Each participant needs to finish at least five hours of community service.

One 14-year-old was part of the project because he sold marijuana. He said he did so to make money to help feed his family. He didn’t see anything wrong with that. Many of the offenders’ issues start with family poverty and a need to belong.

Junction launched a work program in response. This teen and others were assigned to Grasshoppers, which pays them to mow lawns and shovel snow. The group tried to have the teen understand how his actions impacted those buying marijuana and how his family needed to meet court dates and other requirements.

Contact a Defense Attorney at LHA

If your child is charged with an offense, you need an effective defense attorney to protect their rights. The Franklin County’s Restorative Justice Circles Program may be the right option for your child. But it takes experience in the system to get admitted and succeed. We may be able to have your child enrolled so he or she can limit their time in the justice system.

An experienced criminal defense attorney with Luftman, Heck & Associates will work diligently, treat you with respect, and go above and beyond to preserve your rights and those of your child. Call LHA for a free consult at (614) 500-3836 or fill out our online contact form.

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