Crime causes injuries. It also can result in both the victim and offender experiencing stigmatization. Therefore, restorative justice places a high value on the reintegration of the victim and of the offender. The goal is to have them become whole, contributing members of their communities.
Victims often feel stigmatized by family, friends and the community. Sometimes this is because of the loneliness experienced during and after a traumatic crisis. But sometimes it is because victims are uncomfortable reminders to those around them that crime can happen to anyone. Out of fear, people who might naturally support victims instead attempt to explain away what happened by blaming the victim or wishing he/she would "just get over it." This works to separate the victim from loved ones and community members and can lead to stigmatization.
Offenders also face stigmatization. Since crime causes fear in the community, offenders become vilified in the eyes of society. Incarceration separates them from their families and communities. Upon release, offenders frequently lack stable support structures, and even start-up money for food and clothes, housing, transportation, and other parts of a healthy productive life. At the same time, offenders face discrimination in their attempts to become productive citizens.
Reintegration occurs when the victim or offender can become active and productive parts of their communities. To accomplish this, victims and offenders must find communities with the following characteristics: (1) mutual respect for those in the community, (2) mutual commitment to others in the community, and (3) intolerance for--but understanding of--deviant behaviour by members of the community.
The following are examples of such communities.
In victim support groups and ex-offender support groups, participants understand the difficulties that others face because they have faced them too. When members find they are not understood by others near them, even their own families, they are able to form strong ties within the group because of their common experiences. These shared experiences help build respect, commitment, and understanding.
Circles of Support
Although support groups help with building self-esteem and more positive responses to life, they are limited in the relationships that are formed. The Mennonite Central Committee in Ontario Canada has organized Circles of Support for ex-offenders needing more accountability than a support group would offer. This programme uses volunteers working with the police, community groups, and treatment professionals to address the needs of serious sex offenders as they are released from prison. The programme reduces recidivism, aids the offender's transition into the community, and addresses the fears of the community.
Faith communities are present in virtually all communities. Many are encouraged by their beliefs and traditions to help meet needs in their communities. Many have the resources and presence to provide many services. For example, Christianity is filled with traditions and examples of caring for those in needs. The story of the Good Samaritan encourages the church to aid victims of crime. Jesus' act of forgiveness and acceptance of the thief on the cross provides an example of acceptance of repentant offenders into the community.
When support groups, community groups, faith communities or other communities offer friendship, material aid, and spiritual or moral direction, they offer the victim and offender the opportunity to leave the shadows and reenter the larger community as contributing members. The community's responsibility is to make those reintegrating communities available. Responsibility for joining those communities lies with the victim and the offender.
This article was abstracted from Van Ness, Daniel and Karen Heetderks Strong. 2003. "Chapter 6:Reintegration." In, Restoring Justice. 2nd. Cincinnati: Anderson Publishing. Used by permission from Anderson Publishing Company. All rights reserved. No part of this book may reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems without permission in writing from the publisher.