Opinion: Retain Judge Michael Corey, support restorative justice

  • Monday, October 29, 2018 4:26am
  • News

Retain Judge Michael Corey, support restorative justice

Recent attacks against Judge Michael Corey portray his decision in the assault case of Justin Schneider as uncaring towards the victim — a young Alaska Native woman — and callous towards the impact of sexual assault. Some are urging us to vote against the judge’s retention on Nov. 6, based on his willingness to accept a plea deal that allowed Schneider to engage in sexual offender treatment under house arrest in lieu of a jail sentence.

As a longtime Alaskan woman lawyer, I understand the outrage over the long-standing sexual assault crisis in our state. Yet to me, those who focus their ire on Judge Corey overlook not only the magnitude and complexity of our crisis, but the truly unique circumstances of the Schneider case and the benefit of what the prosecutor and the judge were seeking to achieve.

First, the crime Schneider committed was terrifying, and should obviously be characterized as a serious sex crime. But the facts were so unusual they did not constitute sexual assault under Alaska law. Both the prosecutor and the court were faced with a legal framework inadequate to fully address the circumstances.

Second, Schneider’s response to his crime was itself unusual, and was key to the plea deal that was offered. He declined to challenge the victim’s story, but instead entered therapy, where he expressed empathy for the victim. This step of taking responsibility is rare in sexual assault cases. As recent controversies painfully demonstrate, perpetrators’ denials underlie much of the lingering pain victims suffer.

Third, securing sexual offender treatment for a perpetrator who cannot be convicted of a sex crime is perhaps the most unusual — and remarkable — aspect of the case. The statutory sentencing structure governing Schneider’s crimes made a short jail sentence the most likely option. Yet therapeutic approaches that impose treatment in lieu of jail can be more effective in reducing the likelihood a perpetrator will reoffend. In the absence of ideal options, it was not unreasonable for Judge Corey to decide that a jail sentence was not the best outcome in Schneider’s case, given his willingness to agree to treatment. Criminal justice professionals — and offenders themselves — recognize that treatment is much more difficult than sitting in a jail cell. Holding a mirror up to one’s most horrifying and disgusting behaviors — and owning them fully — is a process many offenders refuse to engage.

It makes me hopeful that people are standing up for Alaska’s victims of sexual assault. But perpetrators are Alaskans, too. Most often, they are people we know. More rarely, they are strangers like Schneider. Either way, they live among us, and even if arrested, convicted and sent to jail, they will return to our communities. Whether they return unchanged or engaged in rehabilitation matters a lot to me, and should matter to all of us.

By using what authority he had to compel treatment, Judge Corey chose the path of restorative justice — a path that, to me, holds more promise for addressing the root causes of our sexual assault crisis than rage and finger-pointing. Whether one agrees or disagrees with Judge Corey’s actions, they were those of a careful jurist doing what jurists are supposed to do: make fair decisions based on the facts and laws of each case, however messy or imperfect they may be. I support Judge Corey’s retention and plan to vote “yes” on Nov. 6. I urge you to do so, too.

— Barbara Hood, Anchorage

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