Full Circle Restorative Justice Part 2

By Dianne Frazee-Walker

Full Circle Restorative Justice (FCRJ) of the 11th Judicial District of Colorado was founded in 2006 by Dianne Walker resulting from her personal experience with the criminal justice system. (For more details read FCRJ, Part l.)

Restorative Justice (RJ) is based on a theory of justice and a global social change movement that endorses peaceful approaches to harm, problem-solving and violations of legal and human rights.

The FCRJ Board of Directors’ diligence and community support has provided the  community with education on the concepts of restorative justice, trained volunteer conference facilitators, and was awarded non-profit 501c3 status in April 2009.  FCRJ is celebrating their Holiday Potluck Party on Dec. 17. The individuals from the left are Dunk, Chris & Jake, Toni, Mike, Cheryl, Patty, Karen & Laura.

The mission of Full Circle Restorative Justice is to provide alternative dispute resolution and facilitation within the 11th Judicial District of Colorado. Full Circle strives to: “To enhance the safety of our community by addressing offender accountability and to empower victims through a supportive conflict resolution process.”

A majority of board members became involved with FCRJ as a result of their own personal experiences with the justice system, experiences which evolved into an inspiration for exploring alternatives to punitive approaches of the current justice system.

The FCRJ board has been trained as volunteer facilitators by Restorative Solutions, LLC, Youth Transformation Center/Boomerang Program, and Center for Restorative Practices.

FCRJ’s board members and volunteers have devoted a significant amount of volunteer time to FCRJ as a start-up with limited grass-roots funding.

In 2009 when FCRJ was awarded 501 ( C ) 3, tax-exempt, Action Adventure Opportunities (AAOpps), which partners with the 11th Judicial District’s Juvenile Diversion Program, joined under the umbrella of FCRJ’s 501 ( C ) 3.  Photo courtesy Dianne Frazee-Walker

Action Adventure Opportunities AAOpps was founded by Patricia La Taille, current Executive Director of FCRJ.

AAOpps is a program designed to provide positive recreational, educational and adventure experiences for at risk youth and teens of all abilities. These opportunities engage youth in healthy activities designed to build leadership, a stronger sense of self-worth, foster creativity and incorporate empathy into compassionate team building. The goal of AAOpps is to cultivate inspiration and confidence for participants to utilize the qualities of self-reliance, non-violent play and communication when coping with stress in their everyday lives.

Most of the AAOpps participants are youth offenders. The participants are evaluated and referred by the director of the Mentoring Program, which is a component of Chaffee County Health and Human Services.

2010 was the year FCRJ resolved to progress further and expand the program. 

Dianne Walker, founder of FCRJ resigned her position as coordinator in 2010 to pursue other justice related ventures and advance her educational goals aimed at improving the correctional sector of the justice system.

Patricia La Taille, former FCRJ board president stepped-up to the plate and accepted the position of FCRJ Executive Director.

FCRJ has cultivated an impressive board that cannot be dismissed without providing a brief summary of each of these individuals. The FCRJ board and volunteers are exceptional individuals, who are passionate about restorative justice. The organization has made vast accomplishments since their reformation in 2010.     

FCRJ Executive Director Patricia La Taille has been involved with FCRJ since its inception in 2006. Ms. La Taille has over twenty years of experience in working with at-risk youth, and has founded and managed a number of successful youth programs. She has trained FCRJ volunteers in Non-Violent Communication and led weekly Compassionate Communication study groups for the community and in the Chaffee County Detention Facility. In addition to managing both FCRJ and AAOpps, she is a certified mediator, as well as facilitating victim–offender conferences.

Cheryl Haga, FCRJ Board President is a long time Chaffee County resident and business woman. Haga became interested in restorative principles when she was a witness for a friend she believed was falsely accused. Haga’s experience with the justice system increased her awareness about how applying more peaceful approaches to conflict can advance the criminal justice process. She took the ball and ran with it. Haga has been a positive contribution to the development of FCRJ since the organization’s initial formation.  

Laura Smith is a committed FCRJ board member who has diligently held the position of FCRJ treasurer since the initiation of the project. Along with being a dedicated board member Smith is a single parent and has worked for Chaffee County EMT for many years. Ms. Smith is motivated to contribute to the movement because of her devotion to a family member who had negligent transactions with the criminal justice system. 

Karen A. Latvala FCRJ Board Secretary, long time Fremont County resident is a professional life coach. She is the creator of Conscious Life Quest and Life Coaching. Ms. Latvala became interested in restorative justice after a significant life changing event which provided her with an openness to become drawn into a movement that restores the justice system.     Photo courtesy Dianne Frazee-Walker

Ira Curry, longtime Salida, Colorado resident, business man and entrepreneur is a FCRJ volunteer. Curry recently took over ownership of a longtime Salida business, The Mountain Motel. Even in the mist of renovating the hotel, Curry finds time to serve FCRJ and be available for the organization at the drop of a hat because of his passion for restorative justice.  

Dunkly DeCew, FCRJ Board Vice President is a well-known and respected Chaffee County local business man and owner of DeCew Contracting Inc. 

Toni and Chris Gedes are mother and son who reside in the sister town of Buena Vista, Colorado. The Gedes have an incredible story of transformation which motivated them to become FCRJ board members and share what they learned with their community.  Before discovering restorative justice Toni Gedes and her son had a volatile relationship that erupted when Chris was arrested for assaulting his mother. The charge landed Chris in front of the 11th Judicial District probation officer, who recommended Chris participate in FCRJ. The program coupled with a non-violent communication class changed Chris’ life and his relationship with his mother. 

Mike Harris LPC, LAC, FCRJ board member is a licensed professional counselor, addiction counselor and group psychotherapist. Harris has been in private practice since April 2011 and began operating Crest Counseling in Salida, in January 2012.

From 2006-2010 Ms. Walker, founder of FCRJ administrated the program from her home.

In 2010, Neighbor to Neighbor, a local non-profit organization, donated an office to FCRJ until the organization acquired a conveniently located office on Salida’s main highway. FCRJ currently rents a small office where Ms. La Taille meticulously writes grants, organizes victim/offender conferences (circles), and plans fund-raisers. The organization has access to a common meeting room, which is used for board meetings and victim/offender conferences (circles).

FCRJ board’s persistent search for supporters and La Taille’s effective grant-writing skills have earned FCRJ at least a dozen supporters, which include prestigious grantors such as, Anschutz Family Foundation, El Pomar Foundation, and The Colorado Trust Foundation. Other supporters are 11th Judicial District’s Diversion program grant funding for Action Adventure Opportunities AAOpps, local government, businesses, foundations, and individual donations and supporters. FCRJ also regularly organizes community fundraisers.

The collaborated resources have enabled FCRJ to rapidly expand the program. The organization has integrated Non-Violent Communication (NVC) dialog and peer mediation into the local school system. FCRJ has facilitated Non-Violent Communication (NVC) and restorative justice at the Chaffee County Detention Facility and Juvenile Probation.

La Taille, along with other board members, introduced Officer James Brown, Longmont Police Department liaison officer with the Longmont Community Justice Partnership to the Salida Police Department to help them understand how they can work with restorative justice.

The year 2012 was a productive year for FCRJ. A total of 30 cases were referred from Juvenile Diversion, Probation, Buena Vista and Salida Municipal Courts for Victim–Offender conferences.  FCRJ has processed 26 cases to date, with 16 successfully completed, 2 re-offenses after completing FCRJ, 2 incomplete and 2 closed due to re-offenses before completing FCRJ, and 8 of those cases were still in progress.

FCRJ conducted satisfaction surveys at the completion of the restorative circle.  Eighty-nine individuals were surveyed; of that number, 79 individuals gave the RJ process a “very high” rating. 

Nine years after Walker had an epiphany about how “there has to be a better way to address crime,” a bill that went into effect Aug. 7, HB 13-1254. The new policy changes the requirement of victim initiation, in some cases, to allow juvenile offenders or the district attorney to initiate the restorative justice program.

HB 13-1254 creates a $10 restorative justice surcharge that anyone convicted of a non-traffic crime, and any person adjudicated of a crime, must pay. Money collected from the surcharge will go to fund restorative justice programs and to cover the administrative costs of the restorative justice coordinating council.

Additionally, the bill creates a pilot project for restorative justice programs.

Colorado State Representative Pete Lee, the legislator who spearheaded the restorative justice referral law that recently went into effect spoke at the Salida High School Auditorium on Sept. 14. Lee and his wife Lynn, who is also involved in RJ, discussed how the program is being used across the state.

Various individuals involved with restorative justice locally also shared their stories on how transformational the RJ process can be – and how rewarding the experience is for victims and families and community members.

FCRJ is responding to the bill by aiming for a $5,000 Anschutz Family Foundation Challenge Grant to use the challenge grant funds to expand the reach of its program and also to hire a part-time program coordinator to introduce the program to area schools and be a training facilitator.

So far the program has raised about $2,800 from individual donations and donations from organizations like Monarch Community Outreach and Salida City Council.

The town of Buena Vista gave the program $1,000 in January to expand its reach into the Buena Vista area.

The organization’s strategy for reaching its fundraising goal by the Oct.15 deadline is selling See’s Candies out of FCRJ’s office and other supportive businesses.  Action Adventure Opportunities (AAOpps) activity

Walker is taking another route to promote social justice since her resignation in 2010.

At age 47, when Walker made the decision to advocate for justice she had no college education. While starting-up FCRJ, Walker earned an Associate Degree in Humane Services; in 2012 she graduated from University of Phoenix with a Bachelors Degree in Criminal Justice. Walker is currently earning a Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology through Grand Canyon University and plans to continue on to earn a doctorate degree that will further her qualifications for making a difference within the penal  system. 

Walker is employed as an independent blogger for Middle Street Publishing, Prison Education.com, and PrisonLawBlog.

In June of 2013, the Buena Vista Correctional Facility asked Walker to introduce selected minimum and medium security inmates to restorative justice. The response from the inmates was an overwhelming need to incorporate adult restorative justice into the prison system.  

Walker is planning a meeting with State Representative Pete Lee in November to discuss the possibilities of adult restorative justice. HB 13-1254 policy exclusively allows for juvenile offenders referred to restorative justice by the district attorney.

Walker is heartened by the growth that has occurred and lives that have changed since Restorative Justice was introduced to these small mountain communities. 

PrisonEducation.com and PrisonLawBlog will keep readers up-dated about the future progress of Full Circle Restorative Justice and Dianne Walker.