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But until the passage of the restorative-justice bill this year, there was no process in Colorado's adult justice system to allow such meetings. Evans testified in support of the bill. Among the opponents who showed up that day was Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey. It was "very challenging" and uncomfortable, Evans says, to find herself on the opposite side of the fence from the man who put her son's killers away.

Evans hopes to be able to sit down and talk to Johnson soon. But it's not clear when that might actually happen; the Department of Corrections has a list of hundreds of victims who want to meet their offenders and no funds to pay for the costs of the meetings, including transportation and facilitators. In order to get the bill passed, Representative Lee and other sponsors agreed to cut its fiscal impacts to the bone.

"I pulled a rabbit out of a hat," Lee says. "It was all in the spirit of compromise, with no money attached."

Lee says he's working with the DOC to get the pilot program going. He has dozens of restorative-justice facilitators who've agreed to provide services for free and says prison officials have been "very forthcoming" in their concerns. "I don't know if there's institutional opposition to restorative justice," he says. "There is a lack of understanding. People are afraid of the unknown."

Many victim groups have welcomed the arrival of such a program, even if the funding is meager. "It's not a program for everybody, but it should be there for people who need it," Cannata says. "It has to be a controlled environment, or it will damage both parties. If it helps victims move on, that would be a good thing. And if it influences offenders so that they never commit another crime, so much the better."

Evans plans to start a restorative-justice initiative of her own, working with victims to "get their needs met in a timely manner." But right now she's struggling, like a lot of nonprofit activists, to collect just a few drops from the vast streams of grant money that flow toward the major victim interest groups in the state. "I have spoken with COVA, and they've kind of shooed me away," she says. "They're not really interested in restorative justice."

Her gang-prevention program lost its offices a few months ago after pilot funding ran out. "We're looking for funds for a building now. A lot of minority nonprofits have their credibility questioned, but we've been very active in the Arapahoe County community for years. We do need a building, though, to be effective."

Lewis says COVA welcomes the growing diversity of the victim movement. "I'm encouraged by the Howard Mortons and the Joe Cannatas," she says. "There has been more grassroots victim legislation than with any other cause. Not all of it has been good. But then you have people who serve a population that hasn't been served and bring to light issues we weren't paying attention to."

Evans has thought for years about what she would say if she ever sat down with Raymond Johnson or Paul Littlejohn to discuss the terrible thing they did that extinguished one life and altered so many others. She knows the words. But she's still finding her voice.

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7 comments
Guest
Guest

Some good points in here but the reporting is pretty one-sided.

For instance: Why no mention of the fact that the while COVA was urging their supporters to contact Rep. Duran and ask her to vote against HB 1287 the Pendulum Foundation was making the exact same plea to their supporters to get Rep. Duran to change her vote?

Also, you point out COVA's lobbying efforts several times but I didn't see any mention of the fact that the Pendulum Foundation is a client of J. William Artist & Associates, one of the most powerful lobbying groups in Colorado.

I freely admit my bias - a family member was killed by one of the men whose sentence would have been retroactively reduced under HB 1287 - but if you're going to claim objectivity in your reporting, you should at least make an effort to not let your bias color the story.

calhounp
calhounp

I'd like to publish some of these comments in our print Letters to the Editor section -- ideally with your full name/town. Let me know if that's okay at patricia.calhoun@westword.com

JusticeForAll
JusticeForAll

COVA has always been a direct arm of law enforcement and is so disconnected from the needs and voices of victims they claim to represent. They are far too systems oriented and it is abhorrent that money that VALE takes from direct service agencies is being given to COVA through the nepotism of personal relationships that exist between Nancy Lewis and her hand-picked board of directors.

On Fire
On Fire

Okay. Apparently COVA sees some victims as worth helping and others as not. The victims worth helping include abusive parents and the poor feeble prosecutors who are just trying to build political careers on the backs of abused children. The victims not worth helping are abused children themselves. Got it.

TruthSeeker
TruthSeeker

This was an amazing story. It's finally time that people started taking a look at the money trail of these organizations, especially COVA. They've been in the pockets of the systems-based agencies for years and get money funneled to them for their support. It's no accident that the Denver VALE administrator and co-administrator both serve on COVA's board and routinely take money away from direct-service agencies and hand it over to COVA. They do not speak for victims and I applaud the many agencies who have stood up to COVA to truly speak for their clients. Many of those folks have had their funding taken away by COVA's board members, who handle so much of the victim services funds in Colorado. Shame on COVA.

Catherine
Catherine

Thank you, Mr. Prendergast, for a very enlightening and in-depth story. Also, thank you to Mr. Lee for trying to find an outside the box solution to crime and community healing. The program might need finesse, but I believe it is an important step in the right direction. I hope that other Coloradoans support the measure. Catherine Keske.

Maryellen
Maryellen

Advocates for changing sentencing laws for juveniles serving life have always acknowledged that this issue is extremely complicated. There is no denying the pain of the victims and we advocates for sentencing reform have never done so. However in the past when we tried to introduce changes in the laws, we have been summarily dismissed by COVA and many district attorneys. "No, no, no." "The system is just fine the way it is." Our experience has been similar to Rep. Lee's. One year when we wrote voluntary restorative justice language into a bill, victims groups opposed it saying, "It has to be voluntary." When we pointed out that the provision WAS voluntary, they ignored the wording, pretending that it didn't say precisely what it DID say. No compromise, no changes are needed, regardless of evolving public opinion, scientific advances in the area of teen brain development, studies showing that juveniles receive harsher sentences than adults for the same crimes, and recent supreme court rulings.

We have enough obstreperousness on a national level. We in Colorado must be more thoughtful than that.

Kudos to Alan Prendergrast for a fresh look at a difficult issue. Victims are not a monolithic group and victims' rights groups, such as COVA, would be well served to expand their vision to include more restorative justice and to listen to the voices of victims who seek a measure of redemption and rehabilitation for offenders rather than endless punishment.

Somewhere amid all this pain and destruction there are areas of agreement and healing. I hope Alan's article and Rep. Pete Lee's legislation will be a step in that direction.Mary Ellen Johnson, Executive DirectorThe Pendulum Foundation

 
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