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While restorative justice may not seem like a really Christmasy topic, I came to realize that it might just be the best gift we can give ourselves as nations around the world.  Maybe, as Marcel Proust once said,

The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.

The Daily Good had an interesting article on restorative justice. In case you’re unfamiliar with the concept,

Restorative Justice is an approach to crime and wrongdoing that not only engages victims, offenders and their affected communities, but it is in fact governed by these three stakeholders. Restorative justice is about turning our attention and resources toward first recognizing harms experienced through crime, and then creating the conditions for that harm to be repaired, with a focus on righting relationships which have been thrown out of balance through harmful actions.

The resultrestorative justice is cost-effective, shows the highest rates of satisfaction (90%+ from victims, communities & offenders) and reduces the offender re-offense rate to 10%, down from a national average of 60% with conventional justice. Restorative Justice emphasizes the way in which crimes affect not only people, but also the community in which it occurs.     Restorative Justice Colorado

Ok, so what does that mean in real life?  Many of us, like the Officer Ruprecht in the article, thumb our noses at such a concept and think it’s just an easy way for criminals to wiggle out of paying their dues.  I won’t argue that can be one of the possible outcomes.  No system is perfect.  Let’s face it though, our current justice systems throughout most of the world aren’t working.  Period.  They are becoming more crowded, turning out offenders that go right back to offending, ripping families and communities apart.

In the particular instance in Longmont CO restorative justice was implemented in the case of 6 boys between 10 and 13 who broke into a chemical plant on a lark.  They could have been thrown into the system and likely would have become statistics like so many others.  Instead Longmont tried a new approach.

Later that week the process got started. Ruprecht and the boys joined a small group of professionals from the Longmont Community Justice Partnership. Along with representatives from the boys’ families and from the chemical plant, they talked about what had happened and how to make things right. They discussed accountability, and how nothing would stay permanently on their records if the boys kept their word, so crucially, they would not become permanently considered as ‘high risk’ in the criminal justice system. Separate meetings between all the members of the group prepared them for a larger “circle process” that got everyone involved.

The boys each got an opportunity to sit with the consequences of their choices, to discuss the ways they would do things differently in the future, and to share anything from their home or personal lives that might have influenced their decision to break into the plant that night. Held in a safe environment that did not undercut the importance of accountability, each boy heard the plant representatives speak, and began to understand that their acts had real consequences. Apologies were made. The restorative justice process gave the boys one clear message: their actions were the problem, not themselves as human beings.  They rolled up their sleeves and took part in creating their own contracts for restitution in the form of one hundred hours of sweat equity in the same plant the group broke into, plus alcohol awareness classes and an agreement to write a story about what they’d learned for the local newspaper. Then they signed the contracts and got to work.    The Daily Good

You know what this reminded me of?  Exactly what my mom and dad used to do with me when I did something wrong.  Here was how that usually played out.

Mom would look devastated and say “We’re going to have to talk about this when dad gets home.”  Translation – figure out what you’re going to say to save your butt.

Dad would come home and shortly there after I’d get called and we’d sit down at the kitchen table.  It was always very calm.  The focus was always on my actions.  I never was made to feel that I was bad as a person.  I learned early on that even smart, good people make mistakes. The important thing is to 1) acknowledge it.  2)  apologize sincerely  3)  Find a way to make satisfactory restitution.  4)  Learn from the damn mistake and don’t do it again.  They always asked me to explain what I did and why.  What did I think about it now.  What should we do about it.  Let me be clear as well.  They were not against spanking – they just considered it a method of absolute last resort.  In truth, there were times where I would much rather have taken a couple of quick swats to the butt than to have to sit through the process which was way way harder.

The process took time, it was uncomfortable and you know what?  It worked.  It made me think about my actions before I did them.  I was smart enough to know what was going to happen and knew I was the only one in control of that.  It was my choice and what ever choice I made I was going to be the one that lived with the consequences.  I grew up knowing I wasn’t a bad person, but that sometimes, I’d make mistakes, and when that happened, I’d have to do deal with it.  I think I’ve grown up to be a fairly good person.  I credit my parents process for at least being part of that.

I admit that for a long time I was one who saw no point in restorative justice until I really thought about it and realized that when applied properly it can really work better than punishment.  No system works for everyone all the time, but to discount the benefits of this concept outright would be wrong.  The key is to apply it properly and in the right cases and to follow through.

It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside it’s jails. — Nelson Mandela

In The Wizard of Oz Dorothy is imprisoned but is treated extremely well much to her surprise. When she asks why, the guard replies,

Why would we treat people meanly when we want them to be kind?   From The Wizard of Oz by Frank Baum

Yes, why indeed.

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