Restorative Justice involves healing tears in the fabric of community. The theory of restorative justice is not to be “soft on crime” but rather to hold the offender accountable in a way that has the possibility of transforming the offender’s outlook. In the USA, some of the possible outcomes of a restorative approach to justice include apology, restitution, community service, and referrals to therapy. In other countries, the range of possibilities can be larger, including doing whatever it takes to make the victim as whole as possible again.
The justice methods to implement restorative justice, or practices to implement it, are called (drum roll) Restorative Practices. Restorative Practices include such things as Restorative Circles and Truth and Reconciliation Commissions. I was excited to learn that Prison Fellowship runs a Restorative Circle process through its Sycamore Tree project.
Unfortunately, as I attempted to find information about the Sycamore Tree Project in the USA, I learned that in the USA, Restorative Practices are hampered by victim offender laws that prohibit practices that enable contact between victims and offenders. In other words, while other countries in the world are running full throttle toward implementation of these types of programs, the USA is handicapped from implementing cutting edge justice practices on account of our own laws. Still, some innovative programs are able to work around these barriers. In one such program, HERE, the case is referred into a restorative process before it ever enters the “justice system”. Restorative Justice also is hampered by a lack of understanding about what it is. In the article I just cited, for example, no judge has ever made a referral into the program.
When we say “justice,” we could mean any number of things. I urge people to think for yourself, what do you mean when you think of the concept of “justice”? Do you think it means purely revenge, or does it mean something more? If you were a victim, wouldn’t it be more satisfying to have the offender apologize, repent, and rebuild your house?
Just think about it.