With sexual crime, current system is often “vengeful but ineffective”

By Mardi Link . . . Kristen Burgess used to think of herself as a homebody. She never imagined she’d need a MacPass, give public testimony to state lawmakers, or compile 12 years worth of data on sex crimes in Grand Traverse County.

Her domestic life was irrevocably changed April 11, 2018.

That was the day her husband, Victor “Scott” Burgess, 56, was arrested and charged with first-degree criminal sexual conduct. He was later convicted and sentenced to 12 to 30 years in prison.

“It has been the darkest, most devastating time of my entire life,” Kristen, 37, of Fife Lake said, of the past year and a half.

On April 9, 2018, Kristen came home early from her work as a midwife and found her husband in bed, naked, with her teenage daughter.

The 17-year-old was one of three children Burgess adopted when he and Kristen married in 2010. They had five children together; Kristen fled that night with all eight, took refuge in an area church, and called 911.

The Grand Traverse County Sheriff’s Department investigated, Burgess was arrested, charged with three counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, to which he pled guilty.

Judge Thomas Power sentenced Burgess on the three counts and he is currently incarcerated in Chippewa Regional Correctional Facility in Kincheloe. His earliest release date is 2030.

Since her husband’s arrest, Kristen has been vocal about what she wanted from the justice system — and how she believes it failed her and her children.

Kristen said she does not object to her husband’s arrest or conviction. She also doesn’t refute the fact her daughter was the victim of a terrible crime. She objects to the lack of a plea offer, to a prison sentence she says is “vengeful but ineffective,” and to her fitness as a parent being questioned.

She has twice given testimony to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Joint Task Force on Jail and Pre-Trial Incarceration, once in Traverse City and once in Lansing; she submitted a five-page victim impact statement to Judge Power and sends him a letter every six months describing how her family is coping; she compiled data on all first-degree criminal sexual conduct charges, dismissals, plea bargains and sentences in Grand Traverse County since 1997; and when invited, she speaks in private homes about restorative justice.

She is also raising her children on her own, using heavily-taxed early withdrawals from her husband’s retirement fund to pay bills and buy groceries. She said she’s experienced every emotion one might imagine — rage, grief, horror and confusion — yet still hopes to someday be reunited with her husband.

Criticism for stating that publicly is to be expected, she said.

“Internet trolls can say I’m an idiot, the prosecutor can say I’m being manipulated, but there may be some people out there willing to listen. Restorative justice can work. And somebody needs to be brave enough to stand up and talk about it.”

Restorative Justice

The term “restorative justice” has been used by the court system since at least 2007, when the U.S. Department of Justice funded publication of the 110-page Restorative Justice On-Line Notebook.

“The current system in which crime is considered an act against the State, works on a premise that largely ignores the victim and the community that is hurt most by crime,” the notebook states. “Instead, it focuses on punishing offenders without forcing them to face the impact of their crimes.”

When deployed by the courts, restorative justice tends to mete out shorter prison sentences.

It is a way of thinking about crime and offender rehabilitation that encourages in-person meetings —which can often become verbal confrontations — as well as counseling, incarceration and reparations.

Instead of punishment, it emphasizes accountability and making amends, according to The Centre for Justice and Reconciliation, a program of Prison Fellowship International, a Christian-based nonprofit based in Washington, D.C.

Read the rest of the piece here at the Record-Eagle.

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