Fairness, justice and restoring lives
During a hot summer day, daycare workers removed children from a van, except one — Jazzmin Green. She was two years old. Sixteen-year-old Miesha Ridley was responsible for checking off the names of the children as they were removed. There was a mark next to Jazzmin’s name. An hour passed before anyone noticed she was missing. They found her in the van unconscious — still strapped to her car seat. She died from the heat. Miesha and two adult workers were arrested.
Miesha admitted to voluntary manslaughter — it was time for disposition. Jazzmin’s parents made it clear that anything other than prison for Miesha would be “unfair.” They just buried their child and the pain was eating at them. During the hearing, Mr. Green shared these feelings of unfairness and asked that “justice” be done.
from the transcript on Religion & Ethics:
POTTER: More than two million Americans are now imprisoned, four times as many as 30 years ago. The major reason: mandatory sentencing for non-violent crimes and drug charges. But the war on drugs, declared in the 1980s, has not had the effect its backers predicted. Arkansas Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen has seen the results.
JUDGE WENDELL GRIFFEN (Arkansas Circuit Court): Drug use has not declined. All it has done has produced an explosion on our prison population. The whole mandatory sentencing guideline mantra was sort of like the Kool-Aid that we should never have drunk.
The story is true
Our histories, our identities, our meanings for our lives are understood in and conveyed through our stories. We often experience trauma when those stories are disrupted. The process of transcending trauma requires us to “re-story” our lives. This is true for those who are victimized but it is often true for those who offend as well....
Judicial trials are also about story. [Bruce] Jackson notes in The Story is True that trials are a competition between different ways to frame ambiguous material. They are often more about winning more than about truth; the instrument is the development of a plausible story (p. 123).
Can restorative processes serve people with limitations?
When those who have a mental illness or a behavioral problem become involved in a dispute, what processes are available to help them resolve the conflict? What about children, ten or eleven years old, who break the law? How can their disputes be effectively addressed and involve them in a meaningful way?
In the past, the court system has been the principle process offered when people cannot resolve their disputes. As the legal system is a highly technical environment, it presents obstacles for people with limited ability. In a recent blog, We Must Do Better Justice, I wrote about Daudi Beverly who was sentenced to serve a long sentence, despite years of mental illness and seven hospitalizations for emotional problems prior to his conviction.