The traditional system seeks only to apply a punishment to a convicted criminal. Once a traditional sentence is given, the victim, victim’s family and offender’s family have no opportunity for emotional healing. The offender has no opportunity to atone and work toward being a part of the community once again. But emotional closure has been shown to have a deeper impact than general punishment, because it interjects humanity into the equation.

Restorative justice is victim-initiated. There is no mandate here, nor would a restorative justice session occur without agreement by the offender. In short, both parties must want to open a dialogue. It provides an opportunity for the victim to speak directly to the offender in a controlled environment moderated by a trained facilitator.

Restorative justice is not about replacing the court system or going soft on crime. Restorative justice expects offenders to take responsibility for their actions and assists them in taking steps to help heal the harm they have caused. The restorative justice process doesn’t mean there won’t be jail time, as the McBride-Grosmaire case clearly shows. It means that there may be other actions the victim would like to see happen.

...Most offenders will re-enter our society more humanized if they are allowed to take real responsibility for their actions. By hearing the full impact of their actions and taking steps to make things better for the victim and community, an ex-offender may feel the power of atonement and a renewed sense of belonging to the community. Restorative justice studies show that offenders who’ve had the opportunity to make things better and honor their agreement have lower recidivism rates. We want this in Florida.

The Legislature should look to restorative justice, but look at it as Colorado’s legislature did last year: By allowing judges to provide the option of a restorative justice process to the victim, allowing pre-filing diversion to restorative justice programs for juveniles (helping to stop the school-to-prison pipeline), and providing funding for pilot programs and a study to show the effects these processes have on recidivism, victim satisfaction and community involvement.

The goals of restorative justice are intentionally focused. Restorative justice seeks to reveal what really happened, what impact the event had on everyone involved, who owns the obligations to make things better, and how that can be accomplished.

Read the full article.