Call it “restorative justice,” as do law professors, self-styled reformers and a few metro Denver district attorneys. Or, skip the buzzwords and call it “mediation,” which is how the Pikes Peak region’s 4th Judicial District Attorney Michael Allen matter-of-factly puts it.

Then again, just call it a second chance — letting a youthful, first-time, petty offender sit down with the victim and, ideally, feel the victim’s pain. A life lesson instead of jail time.

Whatever you call it — just don’t think it can play much of a role in stopping the epic crime wave that has been crushing Colorado.

Violent crime in our state skyrocketed 35% from 2011 to last year — while rising only 3% nationwide. The state’s crime rate for 2021 is on track to be the highest since 1994. Colorado’s 2020 murder rate was 106% higher than in 2011. Assault was up 40% in that same time. Rape was 9% higher. The tsunami is stigmatizing us nationwide: Colorado’s bears the dubious distinction of ranking first among all states for auto theft.

Meanwhile incarceration in our state has plummeted over the past decade even as crime has soared — as documented recently in a new study by Colorado’s Common Sense Institute. The correlation is clear: Fewer lawbreakers in jail has meant more havoc on our streets.

The only effective response to that alarming development is to put more wrongdoers back behind bars. Having them talk it over with victims in a bid for restorative justice — won’t do.

A Gazette news report took an in-depth look at the restorative justice movement this week, and even those DAs who tout it acknowledge its limits. They say they don’t use it on violent offenders. But there’s still a lot of wiggle room for restorative justice fans like Denver DA Beth McCann and the 17th Judicial District Attorney Brian Mason, serving Adams and Broomfield counties.

Indeed, McCann is better known these days for her email fundraising on behalf of restorative justice programs — than for standing up to the chronic criminal element in her city. Mason is all in, too, waxing glowingly about how “powerful” restorative justice can be: “It can be very healing in a way that the defendant getting a conviction is not very healing.”

Just so he keeps in mind that in most cases, there’s nothing as “healing” as a plain old conviction. Certainly, in terms of safeguarding the community.

Former Denver DA Mitch Morrissey brought the issue back down to earth in The Gazette’s report. He, too, employed restorative justice in his time at the helm — and he makes clear that it only goes so far.

“The problem with this whole thing is that there are repeat offenders and habitual criminals, things like organized shoplifting rings, criminal enterprises, people who come in after doing the same crime five times,” Morrissey said. “Restorative justice won’t work for them.”

Colorado is being crippled by crime. Sadly, there’s no low-cost, feel-good solution. A prosecutor’s job isn’t to heal the perpetrators but to lock them up. The DA’s top priority, after all, is protecting the public. It is the responsibility of the wrongdoer to mend his ways.

The Gazette editorial board

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