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Friday, February 13, 2015

Restorative Justice in Alabama?

Reprint Opelika Auburn News February 15, 2015. 
Alabama’s General Fund is currently facing a monumental $250 million dollar funding shortfall all while it has a prison population of over 26,000 ($17,000 approximate yearly costs per inmate) that is just under 200% of prison capacity of 13,318. While recognizing these terrible statistics and rumblings of a federal takeover of Alabama prisons, Governor Bentley last year formed a joint task force to come up with creative prison reforms. Now is the time to reinvent the way our judges, law enforcement, district attorneys, corrections officials, pardons and parole and communities approach the criminal justice system by giving them statutory language which would allow for a completely voluntary Restorative Justice alternative track. Restorative Justice, along with creative employer hiring incentives for qualified offenders, could do much good to empty Alabama Prisons and divert those headed in that direction.

Restorative Justice means criminal justice practices for juveniles, diversion programs, those incarcerated and on parole, which elevates the role of the crime victims and community members in the criminal justice process, holds responsible parties directly accountable to the people and community they have harmed, seeks to restore emotional and material losses, and provides a range of opportunities for community dialogue. A truly magical result is that recidivism rates drop by 50% because for the first time the responsible party has empathy for their victim. Currently 37 States, and numerous foreign countries, have some restorative justice language in their criminal statues that allows, in a completely voluntary setting with a trained Restorative Justice Facilitator, to find solutions that advances the dignity of human life, prioritizes harmed party participation, promotes accountability of the responsible party and cultivates community engagement.
 For more information on Restorative Justice go to which is maintained by the Prison Fellowship Ministry.  Also 2 YouTube videos helped me better understand the power behind the principles from a Christian and secular perspective.

Being with the Energy of Love and Forgiveness with Dr. Mark Umbreit
Broadcast on Jun 18, 2013 on Alabama Public Television

To do my part as your elected member on the Alabama Republican Party Executive Committee, I have placed a Resolution before the entire Committee of 400 to go on record Urging the Legislature to Support Restorative Justice in the Prison Reform Act to be voted on at our February 21 Winter Meeting in Montgomery. My State Senator Tom Whatley has been most supportive in putting proposed Restorative Justice language for consideration as a voluntary alternative in the Alabama Prison Reform legislation being currently considered by the Joint Prison Task Force chaired by State Senator Cam Ward. The Final Prison Task Force meeting and vote will be on Thursday February 26 at 1-4 PM in the archives room at the State Capitol.

Additionally, I have also asked our Lee County Republican Party Executive Committee, in the event such an initiative is enacted into law, to fully support such a Lee County Restorative Justice community program by engaging all diverse segments of their community to be supportive with awareness, education and non – profit fundraising to be used to pay stipends to trained certified Restorative Justice Facilitators, and to otherwise be that missing spoke in the Alabama criminal justice system in our community.

Common Sense Counsel. If your heart and pocketbook have been touched, then quickly let your voice be heard at the State and Local level.

Tommy Eden is a partner working out of the Constangy, Brooks & Smith, LLP offices in Opelika, AL and West Point, GA and a member of the ABA Section of Labor and Employment Law and serves on the Board of Directors for the East Alabama SHRM Chapter. He can be contacted at or 334-246-2901. Blog at and follow on twitter tommyeden3.