A Native American Tradition Is Offered as A Sentencing Alternative
Under the supervision of Circuit Judge Tracy McCooey, Montgomery County started a group of community members trained to use a Native American tradition when sentencing Criminal defendants. Trained facilitators will begin to take cases during the summer of 2004. The program and materials are available to other Alabama courts that may also wish to implement the program.
Unlike a traditional sentencing in which a judge hears from the prosecutor and the defense lawyer in a courtroom, then sentences the defendant, participants in circle sentencing meet outside the courtroom and literally sit in a circle. Choosing circle sentencing is voluntary for the defendant
Everyone affected by the crime is invited to attend and take part in the circle, including the defendant, the victim, their families, and any community members that may have been involved or affected. Participants are allowed to speak one by one. Every circle has a “talking piece” and a person is allowed to speak only while holding the object. The group must then reach consensus on the sentence, which then must be approved by the judge. Circle sentencing is used in circuit court to resolve criminal situations, but has also been used effectively at the LIFE Tech Transitional Center where women who are making the change from prison life to the free world have used it to deal with gossip, housekeeping issues, and stresses of living in a group environment.
Presiding Circuit Judge Charles Price gave his approval to the program, and attended the facilitators’ graduation.