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What if … restorative justice?

May 3, 2010

Victims are given the chance to articulate to offenders the ways in
which they were hurt by the crime.  This is an opportunity that they
often are not afforded in our current court process, and one reason why
the majority of victims find the current justice system unsatisfactory. 
After hearing the victim, offenders have to acknowledge the harm they
have caused; they cannot escape the impact they have made on victims,
and thus are unable to shift the guilt away. Offenders are able to
describe their motivations for offending as well as the circumstances
surrounding their offense. 

By giving community members a role in arbitration, the community is
able to establish boundaries while also offering support.  The community
is also made aware of the way in which it might have failed both the
victim and offender in allowing the conflict to take place.  When
community members are active in the adjudication process, offenders face
less stigma and have a better chance reintegrating.

After victims, offenders and community members have been given the
chance to describe what the offense meant to them, the dialogue focuses
on restitution.  The offender is made responsible for restoring the
victim to the best of their abilities.  Obviously, this means something
different for every crime and every victim.

In order to illustrate how RJ serves as a more effective alternative to our current criminal justice process, we will conclude with an example of one conflict that was successfully resolved through RJ mediation.

Several years ago, a fourteen-year-old broke into a neighboring middle-aged woman’s home and stole her VCR.  In the resulting mediation, the victim and the offender spoke about the crime in the presence of a mediator for two hours.  The conversation allowed for the victim and offender to articulate and learn how the crime impacted one another.  The teenager made several apologies and agreed to complete community service. Additionally, the participants decided that the teenager could provide restitution for his crime by paying for the damages to the victim’s home and her stolen VCR, amounting to $200. 

After the session, the victim reported feeling less fearful and angry after learning more about the teenager and the particulars of his offense. To briefly recapitulate, the offender is not burdened by a criminal record, realizes the impact of his actions, and has a reinforced relationship with his community members. The victim is more satisfied and less fearful, having been given a chance to articulate what the crime meant to her and learn what circumstances motivated the offense. And lastly, community members receive a deeper and more nuanced understanding of the issue of crime and how they can work together to prevent future conflict.

Read the whole article.


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