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Chief Ryan named to Communities for Restorative Justice board

Chief Fred RyanChief Ryan

Arlington Police Chief Frederick Ryan has been appointed to the board of directors for Communities for Restorative Justice (C4RJ) to further the organization's mission by assisting victims and offenders of a crime through a healing approach outside the court system.

C4RJ is a community-police partnership that offers restorative justice to those affected by crime. The organization is driven by a group of trained volunteers and is guided by an 11-member board that recognizes crime is a violation of people and relationships, not just a violation of law.

"The Arlington Police Department has been a longtime believer in Communities for Restorative Justice, whose members do fantastic work in multiple cities and towns in Middlesex and Norfolk Counties," Chief Ryan said in a news release. "I'm honored to play an active role in furthering the goals and needs of this organization. It is an innovative approach to dealing with crime in our communities, because it allows the participants to have a voice in responding to crime."

Through C4RJ's process, victims of a crime respond to an incident by directly addressing the person who committed the crime. In turn, offenders are given the chance to rectify their actions and avoid a potential criminal conviction on their record.

Partner police departments, like the Arlington Police Department, recommend cases to C4RJ. If the victim and the offender agree to the process, the matter is given to C4RJ, which facilitates a meeting between both parties, putting the decision making into the hands of those directly affected.

Together, under the guidance of the board of directors and a law enforcement official, the victim, the offender and their loved ones and supporters, along with community members discuss the crime and find a way to move forward. The process is as follows:

• Victims of crime address the person or people who have harmed them, to ask questions in a safe environment, and to share ideas on ways that the offender can repair the harm.
• Offenders better understand the impact of their actions, are held accountable, and encouraged to make amends to those they have harmed.
• The community offers support for the process, addressing matters of public safety and strengthening connections with the police department.
At the end of the meeting, the offender pledges to change his or her actions, which are often accompanied by completing a number of service hours for an appropriate organization. In 60 to 90 days,
All parties meet again to check in and reassess the situation.

"By giving victims and offenders of a crime the opportunity to express themselves in a safe environment, we can have a dialogue that yields positive results for both sides," said Erin Freeborn, executive director of C4RJ. "Chief Ryan will serve as a vital player by providing knowledge, experience and resources to all involved. Chief Ryan has been a long-time supporter of restorative justice and we are honored to welcome him into leadership on the board."

Chief backs Garballey legislation

In March, state Rep. Sean Garballey, Democrat of Arlington and West Medford, and state Sen. James B. Eldridge, Democrat of Acton, have filed restorative-justice legislation for the 2015-2016 session. It creates an option for law enforcement and courts to refer juvenile and low-level adult responsible parties to a community-based program instead of or alongside other responses, including prison.

"This legislation will provide a creative solution which allows low-level offenders to directly repair the harm caused to those impacted by their crimes," Garballey said in a news release he issued March 30.

"It will alleviate the pressure on our already overcrowded prison system and save money over time. Most importantly, it demonstrates to the nation our Commonwealth’s commitment to compassion in mitigating criminal behavior over harsher 'by-the=book' punishments. I am pleased to have Senator Eldridge as my ally on this important legislation."

Chief Ryan, who included restorative justice in his remarks during a Town Hall forum about race in February, said in the release: "This alternative to the traditional criminal-justice system is often mistakenly perceived to be soft on crime. It is anything but. Restorative Justice empowers victims and communities to effectively resolve the harm resulting from criminal acts, while also holding offenders accountable to repair such harm. Many thanks to Representative Garballey and Senator Eldridge for their work at advancing this important legislation."

Eldridge said in the release: "I look forward to working this session with Representative Garballey on a bill that would provide individuals and families with the ability to heal and move forward with their lives after experiencing traumatic events. This legislation would help individuals on both sides of the criminal justice system and help prevent crime while creating a safer and healthier society for everyone."

Bedford Police Chief Robert Bongiorno, who previously was a captain in Arlington, said: "As law enforcement professionals, far too often we feel that, even as we close cases, that we are not repairing the actual damage that crime does to a community. Restorative justice allows us to do something positive that repairs the breach. I applaud the efforts of Senator Eldridge and Representative Garballey in bringing this issue to the forefront."

The Senate and House bills are SD1001 and HD2089. Under the proposal, a referral may be made before a complaint, at the arrest, before an arraignment or sentencing phase. Affected parties and victims may also be part of the process.

This report was published Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015.

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