Restorative justice not one size fits all

To the editor,

I am writing this letter to Judge Annie Woods in regards to the Feb. 20 article in the Durango Herald highlighting her work in La Plata County. Before I get to the heart of why I am writing, I want to share a little bit about myself. I moved to Durango in 2012 and have worked locally in both disability services and community mental health. I am currently a licensed professional counselor working in private practice. I share my background and time in the community for two reasons. First, as a mental health professional trained in trauma-informed care, I believe I have a valuable professional perspective to share. Secondly, while I am relatively new to Durango by Durango standards, I care deeply about this community, about mental health in general, and about social justice and anti-racism work. 

I support restorative justice. For far too long our criminal justice system has been a poor substitute for robust and accessible mental health care. Progressive criminal-justice practices are something we should strive for particularly when they focus on oppressed and marginalized individuals and communities including BIPOC, people with disabilities, and individuals suffering from mental health conditions and/or addiction. These groups historically and currently bear the brunt of a punitive criminal justice system. Anecdotally, I have seen this pattern here in La Plata County – when I worked in crisis mental health and would visit the jail I was aware of a disproportionate amount of non-white inmates as well as inmates jailed as a result of behavior connected to mental health conditions and/or addiction. I believe that for La Plata County to have real restorative, progressive justice, this is information we need to confront and explore.

From the perspective of a mental health professional, I would specifically like to offer feedback around the recent sentencing of Preston Pitcher. In the interest of transparency, I am currently employed at Riversage Family Counseling and was working there when Mr. Pitcher was arrested. In my work as a mental health professional, I have heard again and again how the criminal justice system fails trauma survivors. A trauma-insensitive justice system and lack of consequences for perpetrators often deters survivors from reporting an assault or rape. If they do choose to report, little to no consequences for perpetrators can be invalidating and re-traumatizing. I would argue that the lack of jail time for Mr. Pitcher is the opposite of progressive, restorative justice. As Mr. Pitcher is to my knowledge a white, middle-class male, I would instead say that the lack of jail time in his sentencing maintains the status quo. Restorative justice efforts should focus on the oppressed and marginalized communities I mentioned earlier, not on those already reaping the benefits of white privilege. 

In the article, you talked about learning and growing in your work as a judge. Despite my disagreement with your sentencing in Mr. Pitcher’s case, I do want to recognize, support and uplift women who have fought hard to make room for themselves in historically male-dominated professions. It is my hope that you will take my feedback, along with the feedback of community organizations like SASO and the words of trauma survivors, and reconsider what seems to be a blanket approach to restorative justice benefiting the already privileged. I also hope that we can continue to have real conversations in our community about race and criminal justice, and that those most oppressed by the criminal justice system will be the ones who benefit from progressive approaches going forward.

Thank you for your time.

– Anne Hosey, MA, LPC, Durango