Is Restorative Justice Effective for Felony Level Crimes?

  • Type of process: Community Group Conference
  • Conference Participants:
    • Offender –Tyler (26)
    • 3 Victims- Dr. Hay and his wife (Amy), Madeline (the clinic manager)
    • 2 Facilitators (staff)
    • 2 Community Members (2 volunteers)
    • 1 Police Officer (Officer Peters)
  • Criminal Charges Pending: Felony Possession and Forgery
  • Referring agent: Police Department

Factual Synopsis: A 26-year-old male working at a medical clinic wrote prescriptions for himself for oxycodone, forging a doctor’s signature and prescription number. He wrote and filled prescriptions for oxycodone for about 8 months.

 Narrative: Restorative Justice is often portrayed as a process best used for low-level misdemeanors committed by youth or first-time offenders. This reputation has provided a great way for Restorative Justice to get its foot in the door in the traditional justice system to begin proving its effectiveness. However, to limit Restorative Justice to misdemeanors and petty offences is to overlook the process’s power for healing and transformation after more serious crimes.

Tyler (26) had been working at a local medical clinic for a couple years as he worked toward his goal of becoming a Physician Assistant. Tyler was well liked in the clinic, trusted by his co-workers, and especially by his boss, Madeline. Last winter, a personal crisis hit in Tyler’s family that drastically changed the way he perceived the home life he had grown up with. Tyler struggled with the grief he felt about his family and didn’t know how to handle it. One day, he decided to turn to prescription drugs to numb his pain. In the clinic, he completed a prescription for himself for oxycodone using Dr. Hay’s name and information and filled it at King Soopers. What followed was nearly 8 months of a pattern for Tyler of writing new prescriptions for himself and spending nearly every night numbed by the oxycodone. Tyler described that during that time, he felt distant from his wife as he kept this habit a secret from her and everyone else in his life. Tyler did see a counselor during those months and spoke with her about his struggles, but he was unable to break the habit.

Because Dr. Hay only worked at the clinic with Tyler one day every week, Tyler was able to keep the crime hidden. Then, in June, a pharmacist at King Soopers who is friends with Dr. Hay mentioned to him that he had been filling a prescription for oxycodone for one of his patients for the last few months. Dr. Hay was confused because he knew he was not currently prescribing oxycodone to any of his patients. Dr. Hay and his wife, Amy, began calling the clinic to get answers. At the clinic, Tyler’s manager asked Tyler to find the information Dr. Hay needed. At that point, Tyler decided he needed to confess what he had been doing. He called Dr. Hay back and told him the whole story. Dr. Hay advised that Tyler share what he had done with Madeline, seek addiction counseling, and inform the police.

After Tyler left the clinic, he went straight to the Police Station to confess what he had done. At the Police Station, Tyler spoke with Officer Peters who was struck by Tyler’s decision to take responsibility for his actions upfront. Officer Peters, hearing Tyler take responsibility, brought the case to Restorative Justice to see if it would make an appropriate referral. In the office, we explained that within the confines of our specific program, we are not able to offer the services needed to treat addiction and therefore we felt it necessary for Tyler to seek out help for addiction before being referred to Restorative Justice. Officer Peters checked back in with Tyler and confirmed that he was pursuing counseling and spoke with the victims to get their permission to send the case to Restorative Justice. Both Dr. Hay and Madeline later expressed that they were relieved that there was another option for Tyler. Neither of them wanted to see Tyler’s life ruined or for him to end up in prison.

At the conference, what was most evident was the care Tyler, Madeline, Dr. Hay and Amy all had for each other. The four involved parties had invited each other over for holidays, had supported each other, and considered each other family. Madeline got emotional as she described one of the biggest impacts for her being not having Tyler at the clinic anymore and how much she missed having someone she could rely on so completely. She talked about how overworked everyone at the clinic had been since he had to leave and their struggle to replace him. Dr. Hay and Amy talked about their son who had struggled with addiction and eventually died from related issues, and how they cared about Tyler and wanted a better outcome for him. Tyler spoke about the internal struggle he had felt during all those months and about the support network of his wife, co-workers, and friends that he didn’t really know he had until everything came to light.

One major issue that surfaced at the conference was that in the weeks following the confession, Tyler had hired a lawyer. He did so at the advice of a friend who told him, “It isn’t a question of if you’ll go to prison, it is for how long. And it isn’t a question of if you’ll be in financial ruin from fines, it is how bad of ruin it will be.” Feeling scared, Tyler hired a lawyer. After Tyler confessed to Dr. Hay and Madeline what he had done, both Dr. Hay and Madeline called and texted Tyler most days to see how he was doing. They expressed that they were worried about him and wanted to make sure he knew they cared about him and was getting the help he needed. After Tyler hired the lawyer, he was advised to no longer communicate with Dr. Hay or Madeline, so stopped returning texts and calls. Madeline and Dr. Hay both shared that the lack of communication was one of the most hurtful parts of the entire encounter. When they learned that Tyler had hired a lawyer, they began to feel defensive. Dr. Hay and Amy expressed that they were worried because Dr. Hay’s physician prescription number and signature had been used, and they weren’t sure if this could be turned against them. Madeline also worried that somehow this could be turned against the clinic, and also felt hurt that her care was not reciprocated. When Dr. Hay, Amy and Madeline had the chance to express these feelings in the Restorative Justice conference, Tyler apologized repeatedly and shared that he had only been thinking about his fear and not about how hiring a lawyer would come across to them.

The conflict and hurt around the hiring of a lawyer sheds light on how this case might have turned out if it was sent to the traditional court system. Tyler would have done everything in his power to minimize the amount of time he would be spending in prison and the financial impact on him and his wife. This would have been battled out in court, with the two sides instructed not to speak to each other, with attempts to shift the blame. Would his relationship with his wife have survived the courts, fines, and prison time? In the fight, would he be able to find the network of supportive relationships he needs to overcome his struggle with addiction? Would he have the freedom to prioritize treatment? Would court, prison, and labels change the way Tyler sees himself?

When we came to the assets portion of the Restorative Justice conference, when the co-facilitator shared strengths and passions Tyler has that can help him to repair the harms from the incident, Madeline, Dr. Hay, and Amy all had their own strengths and positive qualities to add. The message was clear: the circle of people cared about and supported Tyler, they saw him for the good person he is, and were there to help him make things right.

For Tyler’s contract to repair the harms, he will be spending hours volunteering at the free clinic for the uninsured and underinsured that Dr. Hay and Amy run two days every week. At Officer Peter’s suggestion, Tyler will also spend some time volunteering at the local Youth Center, doing outdoor activities with youth who often face their own struggles coping in a positive way with family trauma. Tyler will also be helping Madeline with a couple projects for the clinic that he can complete remotely in order to take something off her plate. Finally, Tyler has committed to pursing counseling for addiction and to forming a treatment plan that will help him recognize addiction as a life-long struggle and form strategies for using his network of support when times are difficult.

All of these contract items work to repair the relationships that were damaged, and position Tyler to make a healthy recovery. Because he committed felony level crimes, in most communities in the United States, Tyler’s case would not be considered for Restorative Justice and would be sent directly to the courts, most likely resulting in some prison time. Instead, this felony level offense was referred to Restorative Justice.

4 responses to “Is Restorative Justice Effective for Felony Level Crimes?”

  1. This case really shows the difference between the court system and restorative justice. I’m so glad you were able to take this one….such a positive outcome.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Very encouraging to learn that Restorative Justice can succeed under these types of circumstances. So heartening to know that committed individuals like Lindsey are on the cutting edge of this field and impacting their community in such a powerful, positive way.


    1. Thank you for the kind words, Julie!


  3. […] justice alone, removing the costs and negative impact of incarceration. You can read the entire case study here. Below is an excerpt that demonstrates the different restorative justice made in the life of this […]


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