Put A Face On Crime For First-Time Offenders

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Here's a novel idea: Have criminals face judgment from a tribunal of the victim's peers.

That's the gist of a pilot program getting under way in a Phoenix neighborhood this month.

In that program, Superior Court judges will decide if first-time misdemeanor and some first-time felony offenders should face the music from a Community Reparative Board. That board will consist of residents of the neighborhood where the crime was committed. The board will have the power to order the offender to do community service or get counseling.

The idea is to have budding criminals realize more clearly how their actions affect their victims and the community. Victims will have more input than they do in the normal court process.

The aim is to derail first-time offenders from treading further down the path of crime. Focusing on property-related crimes, the program will put a face on what, to the offender, was merely a thing.

It's one thing to spray paint graffiti or to commit a minor burglary and to have a judge tell you you've done wrong. It's another to have to face the wrath and indignation of those whose neighborhood has been violated.

Their judgment may have the offender enroll in a self-help program or get job-training. They may be ordered to write a public letter of apology. Perhaps they could be forced to make reparation to the victim in one way or another.

The general focus is more toward rehabilitation than punishment. At the level of a first-time offender, that's the appropriate approach: get them to realize what they've done and to change their bad behavior before it becomes habitual.

The Phoenix program is on trial itself, through May 2000, though there have been others like it used in other parts of the country.

We would do well to see how the Phoenix program fares, and then think about adopting something along the same lines for Payson.

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