All I could think is, “No surprise there.” I see this all the time in the criminal justice system. Whether it is the negative labelling of “criminal” or the stigmatisation that follows offenders and their families or the harsh punishments used to deter crime, the “hating on” people seems to make things worse. We talk about high recidivism rates, of prison as a training ground for crime, and of lives and communities torn apart by crime. Othering and negative labels only push people further into negative behaviours and antisocial identities.
Restorative justice, on the other hand, begins with respect and the recognition of human dignity. Bringing people together to honestly share their stories and emotions opens doors and minds to different answers. The offered support allows people to identify their own problems and work with others to find their own solutions. This empowerment helps people both find and own answers to their problems which increases possibility of successful follow through.
I remember one case where a young man had broken into a house with several friends after the group had been drinking heavily. During the preconference the young man’s support person brought up a problem with alcohol dependency. The young man, however, talked about their drinking that night but dismissed it as a problem. In the conference with a community representative and with the support person, the offender described his decisions that night and how much he had been drinking. At the same time, the community representative both talked about his experience of having his house broken into and his own struggle with alcohol dependency. As the conference went on, the young man moved from denying his addiction and the problems that it caused to accepting it and proposing plans for addressing the dependency. In the end, there was an agreement that he would start Alcoholics Anonymous as a strategy to deal with the underlying cause of his crime.
Respect and open dialogue offer much more opportunity for transformation than punishment, discrimination, or making fun of someone. In my opinion, this comes from helping people feel as if they are a part of a community instead of outside of it. This approach definitely works better than “hating on” someone.