Horan, 64, has a ruddy complexion and dresses casually. From his small office in the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Lincoln Heights, a bleak industrial area of Los Angeles just north of downtown, he works to help delinquent teens, many of them gang members, establish more productive bonds with their communities.
When three teens broke into their school a few years back and trashed it, the Office of Restorative Justice persuaded the trial judge to consider a restorative justice solution. The kids had to face their principal and fellow students; they had to pay for the damage; and they had to spend their weekends doing community service at the school—cleaning classrooms, doing basic maintenance work, sweeping autumn leaves. The principal, recalls Horan, took the kids out to lunch, got to know them and encouraged them to attend to their studies. "She said the next year they were the three best kids in the school. What a better result than sending the kids to juvenile hall. They turned their lives around."
Horan is aware of the limitations of this strategy—he tried the same approach when three boys set fire to his church door, but this time the prosecutor insisted on seeking prison terms. Politically, he says, it would be next to impossible for prosecutors to embrace restorative justice for violent criminals.
But Horan believes restorative justice models have to play a part in any revamping of America's criminal justice system. "Always, the first step is, the person has to take responsibility for what they did. That's the cornerstone," he explains. "What can a person do to heal the victim and heal the community?"