Gov. Bill Ritter took a step forward today in the movement to become smart about crime, rather than just tough on crime. He signed into law a bill that grants judges the option of ordering juvenile offenders to meet with their victims and perform community service, rather than be incarcerated in detention facilities.

In signing the bill today, Ritter says juvenile offenders will have to take responsibility for the consequences of their actions, and learn that the decisions they make, both good and bad, will affect the course of their life.

We know what works with juvenile offenders. It’s a system that promotes early intervention, accountability and graduated sanctions.

Effective prevention efforts–in the form of mentoring initiatives, after-school programs, family support services, youth leadership development, etc.–reduce victimization, keep children involved in productive activities and save taxpayer money.

If you’re not familiar with the concept of restorative justice, here’s one explanation:

Restorative justice is a theory of justice that emphasizes repairing the harm caused or revealed by criminal behaviour. It is best accomplished through cooperative processes that include all stakeholders…..Three principles form the foundation for restorative justice:1. Justice requires that we work to restore those who have been injured.2. Those most directly involved and affected by crime should have the opportunity to participate fully in the response if they wish.3. Government’s role is to preserve a just public order, and the community’s is to build and maintain a just peace.

More information is available here.Now we need for the Colorado Senate to follow the lead of the House and pass H.R. 1208 which would allow judges to review prosecutorial decisions to charge juveniles as adults and raise the minimum age for transferring juveniles to adult court from 14 to 16. Why? In a nutshell,

It is harmful to community safety, as well as young offenders themselves, to sentence youth to adult jurisdiction. In adult prisons, youth under age 18 are eight times more likely to commit suicide, five times more likely to be sexually assaulted, and, upon release, much more likely to re-offend than youth handled in the juvenile justice system.

For more on this, see the Denver Post’s special report, Teen Crime, Adult Time.