CU’s Restorative Justice program sees big spike in numbers
Nuisance party tickets issued by the Boulder Police Department hit a high during the first six weeks of school, reaching a total of 89 and flooding Boulder’s Municipal Court and CU’s Restorative Justice program with student offenders.
Many students issued tickets face their first brush with the law, and most can avoid criminal charges. CU’s Restorative Justice program gives students an alternative to facing formal charges. Ninety-five percent of students in the Restorative Justice program are there for alcohol-related offenses, like nuisance tickets.
The Restorative Justice program began in 1998, but funding and lack of a refined structure did not allow large-scale success until 2004. Program coordinator Gina Bata is now faced with 251 students in the program as of Oct. 13. This puts the program into new territory, as there were only 250 in the program for both semesters last year. Bata said that for the first time, the program has an involved coordinator and is equipped to handle the influx of students if the trend continues throughout the year.
“In prior years, we saw one or two (ticketed students) from a party come through,” Bata said. “Now we are seeing whole houses come through.”
When a student receives a nuisance ticket and has to go to municipal court, they are given the option of going through the program, especially if they are first offenders. The charge is treated as a “conditional motion to dismiss,” and all punishment can be avoided if the student completes the program. Students must take responsibility for their actions, be willing to work through the program and work toward a better understanding of the community around them to complete the program.
The student then enters into a reparative agreement. This agreement calls for the student to do something that will make amends for his or her violations. Required acts may include in-person or letters of apology, trash removal or other forms of community service.
“We explain to them that this is not the same as pleading guilty in a court of law, but students must be willing to realize the impact they have on others and make up for it,” Bata said.
Once students agree to be in the program, they are given four weeks to complete the process. The student must attend a community group conference in which the victim and the offender meet with facilitators from the program and volunteer community members.
Sgt. Laurie Wegscheider said the police department is addressing the rising number of tickets, although no root cause can be determined. Wegscheider said that it is not standard procedure to give nuisance party tickets to all people in attendance; usually they are only issued to the people who reside at the house.
“This is a fairly new law. We have only been enforcing it since 2003,” Wegscheider said. “When we have a new law, it takes time to learn the proper way to enforce it.”
Now that police have a clearer understanding of what constitutes this violation, it is up to students to be aware of when parties are getting out of control and disturbing people that live around them, Wegscheider said.
“The tickets hit home a lot harder and are a valuable tool that we have to get compliance,” Wegscheider said.
Police respond to parties that cause a noise disturbance or spill out into an alley or a roadway and endanger those around them. Once police are called to the party, Wegscheider said, “a whole realm of discretion” is opened up. Tickets issued depend upon how cooperative the offenders are, if there are underage students present and how much of a disturbance the party caused. From there, students may face the Restorative Justice program.
Wegscheider said that issuing tickets for these parties is effective because re-visitation rates are very low.
“Once tickets have been issued, we rarely ever have to go back to the same address,” Wegscheider said.
Ben Emery, a senior business management major, is one such student who went through the program after receiving a ticket. Emery was ticketed last December for distributing alcohol to a minor during his birthday party. The party received a noise complaint, and police came to his house. The minor in question had crashed the party and did not know Emery, yet by law Emery was still responsible.
Emery said he knew that the party was loud and that he had a pretty clear understanding of the law.
“The program helped me see it from a community standpoint, and I got a clear understanding of the reasons I got into trouble,” he said.
Emery thought so much of the program that he now works as a facilitator and is helping many students who are in the position he was once in.
By educating the students on what a functioning community needs, it helps to break stereotypes students feel toward residents and the law enforcement, Bata said.
“Many students are frustrated with their own ignorance of the law,” said Bata. “Education is the only way to repair that.”