While I’m looking forward to reading how the authors flesh out the theme, much of what they are saying echoes with what I understand about restorative justice. This includes a discussion about how one’s explanation of poverty will define the approach that person takes to poverty alleviation. The idea that poverty is related to broken relationships also offers a lens for understanding how those engaged in poverty alleviation see themselves in relations to those they are trying to help. Both hint to many of the lessons I’ve learned from restorative justice.
First, how we understand problems will define our answers. So, as the book argues, if we see poverty as a lack of material resources then the answer is to replace those resources. The same is true with the way we define crime. If we see crime as a calculated choice based on a cost/benefit analysis, then our response will be a tough on crime approach that seeks to make crime cost more than it’s worth.
However, if our understanding is that crime is multi-faceted, involving various relationships and concerns, then our response to crime will be more nuanced and considered. This means understanding that crime ripples through a community affecting many different people in different ways. Such recognition opens doors for more voices in the process to develop a broader understanding of the causes of a crime and create ways of addressing those as well as shaping responses that meet the needs of those who have been harmed.
Secondly, our understanding of the individuals will shape our responses to them. If we see those who commit crime as morally inferior then our reactions will communicate that view. If our view is that offenders need to be fixed, we will develop strategies to fix them and impose those. However, if we see them as human beings capable of making different decisions then we will offer them that opportunity.
For me, this is the beauty of restorative justice. It opens our eyes to see the humanity of those caught up in crime – both victim and offender. Through restorative processes or responses we have an opportunity to walk alongside those who have been harmed and those who have caused harm. We can create spaces to help them discover their strengths, their abilities and their own pathways toward making things right, for restoration and, if desired, for reconciliation. In other words, restorative justice theory and practice provide a framework for dealing with broken relationships and creating healthier communities.