Program aims to keep Kent Co. kids out of court

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A new program in Kent County has come up with a new way of dealing with kids who commit crimes.

It’s called “Restorative Justice” for juveniles. The concept isn’t new, but applying it to juvenile court cases in Kent County is.

Kids who commit one of three crimes — malicious destruction of property, larceny, or assault and battery — are eligible for the new program. Rather than send them before a judge, the offender will meet face-to-face with the victim in the case.

“The two of them can come together and in essence agree on what the resolution’s going to be for the two of them,” Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker told 24 Hour News 8 Monday. “Could be shoveling snow, could be painting a house, could be paying restitution and apologizing.”

If both sides agree to meet and all goes as planned, the young offender never goes before a judge and the crime is kept off his or her juvenile record.

Becker, who launched the program at the start of 2018, said the goal is to keep kids from reoffending.

“It’s a way to give the victim a bigger voice and it’s also a way to show the offender the damage he’s done,” Becker said.

Marilyn Booker works for the Dispute Resolution Center of West Michigan, one of the partners of the new program. She has spent the past few years working with students and staff in Wyoming-area schools to resolve conflict and keep kids in school. She’s confident it can work in the justice system, too.

“With the person who was harmed, they get a chance to say what they need to be OK, to feel safe, to feel better,” Booker said. “And then the other person who did the harm can decide, ‘Yeah, I can do this.'”

The prosecutor’s office already has its first case using the Restorative Justice program. If it proves successful, there’s a chance other offenses could be included, as well.