Considering Restorative Justice

The United States doesn’t have a criminal “justice” system, it has a criminal punishment system.  Within this system, there is no justice for the criminal, nor is there any justice for the victim; only vengeance.  However, even that vengeance is illusory and vicarious; it doesn’t belong to the victim, it belongs to the State.  The primary focus of this system is not to to punish the offender for offending the victim, its for offending the authority of the government.  In other words, for breaking the law.

The aim of restorative justice is to create a dynamic where the parties involved in the offence (the offender, the victim, and the community), come together in an attempt to restore the damage, promote healing, and create safety.

Rather than privileging the law, professionals and the state, restorative resolutions engage those who are harmed, wrongdoers and their affected communities in search of solutions that promote repair, reconciliation and the rebuilding of relationships. Restorative justice seeks to build partnerships to re-establish mutual responsibility for constructive responses to wrongdoing within our communities. (Suffolk University Center for Restorative Justice)

This can take many different forms and may depend on the offence and the willingness of the parties involved to work together.  In our current system, there is little to no place for the victim to participate in the process other than being a witness for the government; there is even less place for the community to participate.  This creates a dynamic where the victim is disempowered throughout the process, from the time the offence was committed to the time it is ostensibly resolved, the victim has almost no power over the situation.  The offender is also separated from the process of addressing the offence in a meaningful way.  He/she is consumed with their own well-being in defending against the allegations and looming punishment. Some common restorative justice methods include: victim-offender mediation, community group conferencing, peacemaking/sentencing circles.

The practice of restorative justice is age-old and found in many indigenous cultures, however, the appropriation of it and the discussion of it in the modern world is a relatively new development.  In order for its application to become more mainstream in the United States, it will require a transformation of values where compassion replaces contempt; more Martin Luther King and less Draco.  For those seeking more information, Restorative Justice Online is a good place to start.

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