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Restoring justice in community

editorial

A recent story and opinion column about 10 local teen-agers starting a bonfire in Summit County last week for a late-night party has piqued more than just curiosity among readers.

Many are downright angry.

In the height of fire bans and extreme fire danger, these teens made the unfortunate decision to disregard the law and build a fire. No doubt the teens are feeling the heat now.

Many readers wrote letters to the editor calling for punishment in the form of jail time and fines for the kids. Several young adults and teens wrote us letters complaining these kids aren’t getting a fair shake. That, yes, the kids did something stupid, but they shouldn’t be sent to jail.

Well, going to jail just isn’t the option for most of these kids. Only one teen admitted to starting the fire and he/she likely will face fines and citations, but not jail time. The partiers likely slinked away, relieved to avoid possible repercussions of their actions and participation.

Local authorities also were angered about the bonfire. Sheriff Joe Morales said the incident, “made him sick.”

And it should.

In a time where many towns in Colorado are facing imminent fire danger, we just don’t have the resources to handle a catastrophic fire of our own. It would devastate our community.

So, maybe this is why we feel something should be done to “teach these teens a lesson,” or any other person – young or old – who chooses to disregard a fire ban. Keep in mind, one of the U.S. Forest Service’s own is being charged with starting the largest wildfire in Colorado’s history.

Poor judgment obviously is blind to age.

But, in this case, where teens displayed ridiculous behavior, there is something they can experience that will benefit the entire community.

One reader called in to suggest the teens do community service at a burn unit in a hospital.

We could take it one step further.

The Colorado Forum on Community and Restorative Justice in Denver supports the concept of putting community in the justice system. The idea is to bring individuals, agencies, community groups and the justice system together in “restorative beliefs and actions.”

What could this mean?

The teens could participate in fire mitigation practices such as clearing deadfall in wooded areas or cleaning campgrounds and parks.

The teens could attend courses on fire management and participate in education efforts to teach their peers about fire danger.

The teens could be part of the cleanup efforts in the Hayman or Glenwood areas and help residents sift through their belongings and find lost items.

If nothing else, the ability to give back to a community will go a long way toward healing or easing fears and anger among neighbors.

And, these teens just might learn something in the meantime.


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