PART 2: Juvenile Justice? Restorative Justice Programs
The restorative justice movement is a radical approach to overhauling the justice system by emphasizing responsibility and restoration in a new sentencing process. It is gaining advocates around the world, particularly in faith communities, and is one of the ways people are proposing change, especially to the juvenile justice system.
In our first article in this series, we spoke about the many moral problems with juveniles sentenced on the far end of the spectrum to life without parole. Now, we will explore the usefulness of this radical new approach to justice, especially with (but not limited to) first time juvenile offenders.
Let's say a crime has been committed. In the ideal world, what we want is for the offender to understand what they have done to the victim -- to "get" the impact that what they have done, and to do something meaningful and specific to make amends. Restorative justice does that.
A series of structured conferences is put together (either directly, through a third party, or via mail/video) of the victim and their family/friends and the offender and their family/friends.
The victim gets to describe:
- What happened
- How people were affected
- What can be done to make things better
The offender gets the following:
- Understand of the circumstances of the offense
- Have a voice in describing the impact of the offense
- Identify what can be done to makes things better.
(The above descriptions were adapted from the Australian Capital Territory Department of Justice and Community Safety, as is the following quote:)
RJ has been criticised as a soft option, relevant only to first-time offenders and useful only as a diversionary tool. Scientifically valid research has shown that RJ can reduce offending and can have its strongest impact on serious crimes, violent crime and prolific offenders ... They are also very challenging for offenders as there is nowhere to hide in a conference - offenders face the people they have harmed, the victims, the victim’s supporters and their own family.
The Smith Institute in London says that restorative justice, when implemented, reduced both recidivism among adults and youth, and also reduced cost to the area.
Implementing such an approach could only take place after a values shift, moving us from a desire for retribution and vengeance to a desire for healing. This is a global movement, yet we hear comparatively little about it here -- with the exception of the occasional in-prison meetings between violent crime offenders and a generic group of victims. These meetings, while deeply helpful, do not impact sentencing.
Restorative Justice Online offers a variety of resources, studies, articles and videos about restorative justice. They are part of Prison Fellowship, which was started by Charles Colson after his release as a converted Christian from prison for Watergate offenses.
Restorative Justice is a private site about how restorative justice is being used in the school settings in New Zealand.
The Progressive Jewish Alliance's Jewish Community Justice Project is the nation's first and only Jewish restorative justice project.
The United Church of Christ provides pro-active guidelines for those in its churches who wish to become involved with restorative justice projects, and discussion aids for congregations.
What do you think? If you were the victim of a crime, say a robbery from your home, would you want to sit down and confront the offender with how he had affected you and what he could do to make amends? Or would you just want him punished?
~~ Contributing Editor, Mata H. also blogs right along at Time's Fool