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Restorative Justice is More Than a Fancy Rebrand

Restorative Justice

Restorative Justice is More Than a Fancy Rebrand

Just what is Restorative Justice? According to the University of Wisconsin Law School, “restorative justice seeks to examine the harmful impact of a crime and then determines what can be done to repair that harm [all the] while holding the person who caused it accountable for his or her actions. Accountability for the offender means accepting responsibility and acting to repair the harm done.

In other words, it’s a reset, not so much retribution as it is a reworking. Nobody gets away with anything, but they do get a second chance. Provided of course they’re suitably contrite and willing to make amends.

And that’s the important part — seeing how far the culprit is willing to go to rectify their infraction. Lip service won’t cut it; neither will lackadaisically going through the motions. No, if you really want to play restorative justice, you’ve got to step up into adulthood.

Summit County Gets Restorative

Summit County, Colorado is one county that’s making great strides with restorative justice. The rural resort county is nestled high in the Rocky Mountains. But its privileged perch hasn’t done much to populate the place. In fact, the county seat of Breckenridge sits at 9,602 feet, making it one of the highest cities in the United States, yet it only has 5000 residents.

Oddly enough, while the entire county has only 31,055, that figure’s up from 23,548 in 2000. And though 7507 might not sound like a massive increase, it does represent a rate of nearly 25%. And that’s significant for any county.

Consequently, Summit County is not only facing the issues suffered by the rest of the country; it’s facing them with a significant uptick in residents. That’s especially taxing when it comes to crime, and its attendant issues of substance abuse and mental health.

In enter Summit County Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons, who inherited a department so inundated with lawsuits it made him “acutely aware” that things needed to change.

That includes building Building Hope, a community-wide initiative designed to create a more coordinated, effective and responsive mental health system. In other words, a place through which the Sheriff can create and field new programs aimed at addressing behavioral health needs of those who cycle into the criminal justice system.

“Today,” writes Summit Daily News’ reporter Ryan Spencer, “the Summit County Sheriff’s Office offers substance-use and mental-health resources to those in the jail and has behavioral health specialists who help stabilize in place community members having crises — rather than arresting them.”

Adult Diversion & Pre-Trial Detention

Adult Diversion is one of the county’s most important programs. Overseen by Fifth Judicial District Attorney Heidi McCollum, the adult diversion program allows referrals to pair community service with mental-health and substance-use treatment, giving them a sense of restitution as well as recovery. The DA’s office expects regular check-ins, which helps keep people on track. The goal is to get the charges dismissed so the case never has to make its way through the court system.

“They’re not hardened criminals. They made a mistake,” McCollum said. “Substance use or alcohol may be a part of the crime, but that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve a second chance.”
Pretrial service is another positive program. Designed to help criminal court judges determine whether a particular defendant is safe to be released on bail and under what conditions, pretrial services can help monitor the defendant to ensure that they return to court and remain sober.

“We here aren’t trying to incarcerate people, particularly if there’s other better treatment options that are out there,” Summit County Judge Edward Casias said. “And that begins from the time they’re arrested until the time they’re sentenced.”

Especially for defendants with substance-use disorders, Casias said pretrial services has provided more information that helps with making determinations about whether that person poses a public safety risk or can be released back into the community.

Reports from pretrial services can tell the court whether a person has been able to remain sober, whether they’ve remained out of trouble and whether they’ve worked to access other resources in the community, he said.

“I’m much more inclined to try and rehabilitate than to punish,” Casias said. “But if they don’t rehabilitate, and they just drop the mic and walk away, then they’ve demonstrated they don’t want that chance. Then you do become punitive.”

STARR Program

Adult diversion and pre-trial detention, as helpful as they may be, are nothing new to the criminal justice system. But Summit County’s STARR Program is decidedly new — and unique. The acronym stands for Strategies to Avoid Relapse and Recidivism, though it should come with a Sheriff’s Office badge with Lt. Sylvia Simms overseeing everything. STARR is a voluntary program that offers anyone in jail access to substance-use and mental-health services. The program’s been around since 2020, and it consists of a law enforcement coordinator, case manager and licensed mental health clinician.

“We’re investing in people. We’re investing in their goals,” Simms said. “If their goal is to stay sober and stay out of jail, we’ll do anything we can to help them with that. That’s what we call reducing recidivism. We don’t want them to come back. We want them to be able to be a productive member of our community.”

Of the 580 screenings completed at the jail last year, 387 — or about 67% — were positive for a mental-health or substance-use disorder.

Last year, STARR had 392 clients — more than half of the 734 people booked in the Summit County jail. Those numbers are as high as they are despite the fact that many people don’t stay in custody long enough to qualify for the program, Simms said.

STARR offers a range of evidence-based therapeutic interventions including eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy, an acupuncture protocol known as AcuDetox that is proven to reduce cravings and symptoms of withdrawal. STARR also offers medication-assisted treatment, as well as group and individual therapy sessions with a focus on substance use, anger, communication.

The program also has a closetful of supplies to help inmates overcome challenges they encounter when reentering society following treatment and incarceration.


That’s not all Summit County has up its sleeve. There’s also the Sheriff’s Office Systemwide Mental Assessment Response Team, or SMART, where the goal to deescalate situations that have historically resulted in arrest or hospitalization and to assess whether a person should be referred to local services or a higher level of care.

Each SMART team consists of a law enforcement officer and a behavioral health specialist, who co-respond to calls related to mental health, and a case manager who follows up.
“Our goal is to stabilize you in place, get you out of crisis now,” Sheriff FitzSimons said, “and set you up for success — like immediate success — by finding you a therapist or finding you a program to get more long-term stabilization.”
Last year, SMART responded to 1,383 calls for service — none of which resulted in arrests, according to the Sheriff’s Office. The program also reportedly provided 23 scholarships to clients for immediate access to behavioral health services and helped 45 people get admitted to a higher level of care.


Another super helpful program is the weekly Crossfit Low Oxygen workout session conducted by gym owner Jared Dennis. Put together in concert with the Summit County Sheriff’s Office SMART program, the set-up admittedly has none of the amenities usually found in a facility workout session – there’s no equipment, for instance – but the basic concepts of CrossFit and a high-intensity interval workout are the same, The focus is on building resilience, confidence and community by challenging yourself through physical fitness in a group setting, said Dennis.

“I would say it’s like suffering in a group environment but while preparing you to go outside and face those battles,” Dennis added. “You’re a lot tougher than you think you are. … There’s really that opportunity to change and turn around.”

In other words, it not only toughens one up but it reminds the participant just how tough they really are.

“When you suffer through a workout, you start to realize mentally that you are capable of fighting through those things. When it does get hard, you don’t have to give up,” Dennis said. “You’re training your mind to get through those difficult situations.”

While Dennis said he is only in the jail once a week, the program participants continue to practice the workouts and skills he taught them while they are on their own. Exercise releases the same endorphins as drugs and alcohol, so it can be an especially strong tool for those battling substance-use disorders, he said.

“Drugs take from you,” Dennis said. “Exercise gives back. What you’re willing to put into it, it gives back tenfold.”

Restorative Living

Justice isn’t the only thing that’s Restorative about Summit County; there’s life itself. The county has the longest life expectancy in the entire country, for both men (85.5) and women (88.5). It’s also nestled high in the Rocky Mountains, where the air is as clear as crystal. Summit County is located among the high peaks of the Colorado Rockies, immediately west of the Continental Divide. Its elevation ranges from a low of 7,947 feet above sea level at Green Mountain Reservoir to a 14,270 feet at Gray’s Peak. That’s why they call it the High Country.

Though Summit County has six municipalities (Blue River, Breckenridge, Dillon, Frisco, Montezuma, and Silverthorne) plus four major ski areas (Arapahoe Basin, Breckenridge, Copper Mountain, and Keystone), about 80% of its land is Federal Public Land. That leaves a lot of room for recreation, which should be one of the Three R’s for Restorative Practices. Think about it: Can’t recreation boast the same restorative factors as restoring, rebuilding and reconnecting? Of course it can. Heck, done right ir can be even more restorative.

But before we rewrite the laws of Restoration let’s examine the Three R’s for Restorative Practices – Restore, Rebuild and Reconnect – and see what they may mean to Justice.


Take restore. Merriam-Webster says restore “implies a return to an original state after depletion or loss, as in restored a fine piece of furniture. While the Oxford English Language Dictionary begins its definitions with “bring back (a previous right, practice, custom, or situation); reinstate, as in the policy restored confidence in the banking system.” Then it offers “return (someone or something) to a former condition, place, or position, as in the effort to restore him to office isn’t working” as well as “repair or renovate (a building, work of art, vehicle, etc.) so as to return it to its original condition, as in the building has been lovingly restored.”

In this case restore is akin to recapturing the essence of something that’s either fallen by the wayside or been pushed into the dirt. Whether or not an accident or something purposeful was the cause matters not at all; the idea is to restore whatever you’ve got to its former glory, be it a knick-knack or a life.


As for rebuild, well, Oxford says the verb plays out as “build (something) again after it has been damaged or destroyed.” “We try to help them rebuild their lives.” As a noun, Oxford says it’s “an instance or rebuilding something, especially a vehicle or other machine.” To wit: “The Trust have recognized the hard work of all who were involved in this daunting rebuild.” As far as recovery is concerned, it’s about as apt an analogy as you can get. Recovery is all about the great rebuild, with every day, in every way. Consequently being granted a chance to rebuild your life is pure justice. If, that is, you take it seriously enough to actually pull off the rebuild.


Then we’ve got reconnect, which Oxford verbifies with to “connect back together,” as in “surgeons had to reconnect tendons, nerves, and veins” or re-establish a bond of communication or emotion, “in order to keep your marriage healthy, it is important to reconnect as mature individuals”. Why Oxford pulled these two entries from its many-worded head is anyone’s guess, but we’ll play along.

In the first place, reconnecting tendons, nerves and veins is about as common place as murder; meaning while it does happen, it very seldom happens to anyone we know. Much better to cite the reconnecting of people, and not in that willy-nilly “reconnect as mature individuals” either. Reconnecting as mature individuals just sounds wrong (were you mature before you disconnected?). In order to keep your marriage healthy, it is important to stay connected. If you do need to reconnect, don’t qualify it – do it for the connection itself.

Of course there are more than a few “R”s to put under the Restorative Justice umbrella, not to mention more than a few ways to define those we used. These came from Mark Marini, known to most as “Muggsie,” an Intervention Specialist at Albemarle High School, who blogged all about it for University of Virginia’s School of Education and Human Development Youth-Nex program. That doesn’t make ‘em foolproof; it does however make them well considered.

Just as they have been here. We at Healing Properties hope you take this essay in the manner in which it was meant – cribs from Summit Daily News’ reporter Ryan Spencer and all. Because we’re wholly on the side of Restorative Justice, and big fans of Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons, Fifth Judicial District Attorney Heidi McCollum, Crossfit Low Oxygen’s Jared Dennis, Judge Edward Casias, and Lt. Sylvia Simms, as well as everyone else involved in putting Summit County on the restorative forefront.

Now that’s what we call justice!

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