Reconciliation with God and forgiveness for our wrong-doings are major themes of Lent, but the focus during this season needn't be confined to our relationship with the Divine. In our heart of hearts, most of us yearn for a world where all human beings are reconciled to each other. We yearn for a healing of rifts, for lasting, deep-down, unshakeable shalom - Peace. This doesn't mean that we all have to like each other, necessarily, but that we accept the basic humanity and dignity of every human being and genuinely wish each other well.
Restorative justice is a step in the direction of that kind of peace. It can be a complement to the criminal justice system, a way of literally restoring the sense of community shattered when one person harms another. The criminal justice system takes care of punishing the transgressor; restorative justice acknowledges the common humanity of offender and victim, and moves both towards wholeness and reconciliation. South Carolina, Oregon, Illinois, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Pennsylvania, California and Minnesota already have incorporated the concept into their justice systems.
"It's a completley different way of looking at the justice system. It brings people together in ways that are healing ," says LeDayne Polaski, Program Coordinator for the Baptist Peace Fellowship in Charlotte. "It's a way of allowing everybody to work through the hurt and the pain that's been caused." Polaski related two cases: in the first, members of a church that had been vandalised met with the young people responsible to explain how the damage affected them personally. At the end of the session, the vandals wanted to know how they could help, and promised to repair the damage although it would take them a long time to make the money. In the second, a molestation victim didn't want retributive justice -- as Polaski put it, "some guy going to prison was not at all helpful to her. What she wanted more than anything as a response was a new bed," [For more stories and upcoming events please scroll down]
What is restorative justice, exactly?
"Restorative justice works to restore shalom by holding the offender accountable to the victim for repairing the harm done by the crime. It also gives the community a role to play in responding to the needs of both the victim and the offender for reintegration back into the community." -- from Restorative Justice. Repairing the Harm Done by Crime (Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, Charlotte, NC)
How does it work? In a nutshell, restorative justice uses mediation techniques to bring both parties in a crime together to share how the event in question affected them. Victims tell the prepetrators what they need from them in order to feel whole; the perpetrators are given the opportunity to understand what has happened to others because of their actions, speak about their own feeings, and obtain forgiveness, if humanly possible.
Howard Zehr, Professor of Sociology and Restorative Justice at Eastern Mennonite University in Virginia, has played a leading role in the movement for restorative justice for more than three decades. He writes, in Justice: Retribution or Restoration?
"Legally, the essence of the crime lies in breaking a law rather than the actual damage done. More importantly, the official victim is the state, not you. It is no accident, then, that victims and their needs are so often forgotten: they are not even part of the equation, not part of the definition of the offense! When a crime occurs, the state as victim decides what must be done, and the process of deciding focuses primarily on two questions: 'Is the person guilty? If so, how much punishment does he or she deserve?' ...
"Our definitions of crime and justice, then, might be summarized like this: Crime is a violation of the state and its laws. Justice establishes blame and administers pain through a contest between offender and state.This way of viewing crime might be called "retributive justice." It has little place for victims, uses what some scholars have called a "battle model" for settling things, and, because it is so heavily on establishing blame, looks primarily to the past rather than the future. It assumes that punishment or pain, usually in the form of a prison term, is the normal outcome." [For the complete article, please go to (http://www.peaceworkmagazine.org/pwork/0499/049910.htm)
Real Life Stories
Restorative justice, on the other hand, uses mediation -- "come, let us reason together" (Isaiah 1:18) -- to figure out what can be done to promote healing. It does not replace retributive justice, but can be a valued addition to it.
- This was the case with Therese Bartholomew, who met this past December with the man convicted in the shooting death of her brother, in Greenville, S.C. At one point in the visit, she says, she had to take a moment to pull herself together. It could have been an awkward, painful, moment; the young man easily could have ended the visit right there. Instead, he sat quietly with her, allowing her time to feel what she needed to feel. Those few moments, she said, were "a gift. He could have left, but he stayed." The perpetrator could not replace what had been taken away, but he could give his presence to a sister in mourning. Sometimes, just being present in a time of distress can be enough. A courtroom setting would not have given them the opportunity to have such a moment.
Therese writes about the impact her brother's death had on her and her family in her book, Coffee Shop God, and details her journey toward reconciliation with his killer in her film, The Final Gift (http://thefinalgiftfilm.com.), debuting this Saturday, March 19th, 6PM,at Spirit Square's McGlohon Theatre in Charlotte.
- Another case is presented by People of Faith Against the Death Penalty. "Marietta Jaeger Lane’s daughter, Susie, was abducted at the age of seven during a family camping trip in Montana. The family struggled with their loss without knowledge of Susie’s whereabouts or condition for more than a year before it was confirmed that Susie had been murdered shortly after her abduction," a news release states. "During the year following Susie’s disappearance, Marietta struggled to deal with her rage in light of her belief in the need for forgiveness formed through her faith. Marietta’s eventual demonstration of compassion for Susie’s abductor resulted in his revealing information that led to his arrest, and her opposition to the death penalty led him to confess to additional similar crimes."
Ms. Lane will be telling her story all this week:
Sponsored by (Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation (MVFR) of North Carolina and Capital Restorative Justice Project (CRJP), and other local sponsors.
To learn more about Restorative Justice:
- Check out the Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/pages/Restorative-Justice-Online/125800260169 or the website, http://restorativejustice.org/
- View a YouTube video of Prof. Zehr, click here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2KXwnbsQUrI
- Contact People of Faith Against the Death Penalty,www.pfadp.org 110 W. Main St., Suite 2-G, Carrboro NC 27510, (919) 933-7567.