Recent years have produced a burgeoning of prison building and inmate recidivism. The policy “tough on crime” has created an economic hole that even the least progressive politicians would agree is now crippling state economies with little impact on stopping crime or addressing its actual causation.
Restorative Justice is a process whereby all the parties with a stake in a particular offense come together to resolve collectively how to deal with the aftermath of the offense and its implications for the future. (citing Marshall 1999).
What does it mean to restore?
- To bring back into existence or use.
- To bring back to a previous condition, renovate.
- To reinstate.
- To give back.
What is Justice?
- Moral rightness; equity.
- The administration and procedure of law.
Most crucial for proper Restorative Justice is a process of deliberation that places emphasis on healing rather than punishing: healing the victim and undoing the hurt; healing the offender by rebuilding his or her moral and social selves; healing communities and mending social relationships (citing Braithwaite 1998, 2002).
Concepts and programs already in use that can be embraced by the larger community are:
- Victim/Offender mediation
- Family/Group counseling
- Restorative conferencing
This form of criminal justice, less focused on revenge or retribution, means that someone convicted of a crime is not just warehoused in a prison and totally banished from their community until their release date.
Also implicit in the meaning of Restorative Justice is a neighborhood’s involvement with re-entering and accepting the previously incarcerated back into the community.
And since it stresses the offender making reparations to the victim or the community itself, ex-prisoners could belong to a community-based program that allows them to return to the community and clean vacant lots, renovate playgrounds, paint store fronts, and clean up or board up vacant houses used for illegal activity, etc.
Acts of Restorative Justice can also be carried out within prisons by changed and reformed inmates. Through their life experiences and proximity to other inmates, they can be that voice to speak to those same problems others are now facing that were factors in their lives.
This is the key in disseminating the Restorative Justice process to those within prison because other inmates (especially those who are junior) tend to listen more to those who have lived lives similar to them than to those they consider as “outsiders.”
In this way, a person who was once a victimizer now has the opportunity to take responsibility for their actions, work towards ending the culture of street crime, and helping to create the embodiment of what victims and the community needs to heal. And this takes place in a space usually kid of the very notion of “restoration.”
Outside of prison, communities can begin by implementing a Restorative Discipline policy for high school students. This would help them address how to deal with negative/violent acts that may inevitably lead to prison.
Since most people may have a vague idea of Restorative Justice but are not really sure how it works, we will continue to study the concept ourselves as well as develop methods to explain it to all age groups, various economic levels, and for diverse community settings.
We hope this adds to the discussion of Restorative Justice because its application is paramount to help heal our communities; especially those considered the most crime-ridden.