I thought about this again when I read a news story about the father of a murder suspect offering an apology to the parents of the victim. While the article shows concern for the loss the victim’s parents have suffered, it highlights the loss that parents of offenders face as their children – whether juveniles or adults – commit crimes. Many times when I meet with offenders, I will ask who they have hurt. The list is often very long as they discuss not only the direct victim but the various members of their own families who have suffered from their behaviour. Recently, a young man preparing to participate in a restorative conference due to a larceny offense asked if he could include his parents in the conference. He didn’t want them there to support him, but rather because he owed them an apology for the things he had done to them.
Another reminder of the many hidden individuals affected by crime is all the research currently being published about the impact of parental incarceration on children. As research shows, a father or mother’s imprisonment can negatively affect children both emotionally and materially. For the last few years, my church has worked with Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree programme providing Christmas gifts to children with a parent in prison. Through that experience I’ve had the privilege to listen to caregivers share their concerns both for the incarcerated parent and the child. These range from the lost relationships due to parents serving their sentences at a great distance from the children to concerns of children getting caught up in anti-social behaviours to fears in relation to reintegration of the prisoner upon release.
So, what does all this have to do with restorative justice? Well, in my opinion, true justice remembers the hidden. A justice that serves the needs of all those harmed by crime will bring the hidden into the light and remember all those who are harmed by crime. This doesn’t mean that offenders aren’t punished because others might be harmed by that punishment. It does mean that the consequences of offending behaviour happen in the context of relationships to victims, family of both victim and offender, and the community. It is a justice that offers the opportunity to address the harm done by crime without causing more.
In my opinion, restorative justice provides just such an opportunity. This goes beyond the restorative processes of mediation, conferencing, or circles. It changes the way we understand justice to be about meeting needs as well as punishing the wrong. By understanding justice in terms of harms, needs and relationships, we are able to develop justice processes and responses that leave no one hidden and hurting. It provides opportunities for growth, healing, redemption and better relationships.