Can restorative processes serve people with limitations?
Jan 07, 2011
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.
The restorative justice process may be one of the best options for people with limitations who encounter conflict. It is a process designed to create time and space for supporting the needs of those whom it serves. Being aware of the details of Daudi’s case, I believe that it would have been an ideal case for a restorative process. Despite his mental illness, once Daudi again had access to his medication, his behavior became acceptable.
Daudi wanted to apologize to his victim. (The court process carries a heavy sanction for admitting guilt.) His entire family was remorseful and wanted to tell the victim how sorry they were. They would have supported Daudi in being held accountable in a way that benefited his victim and did not cost the taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars, as his incarceration does. The legal system offered only a hammer when a more inclusive, flexible approach would have achieved a more practical result.
....We often rely on mental health professionals to make decisions about who is capable of doing what, and what rules should be applied when specific diagnoses have been arrived at. If those with mental or emotional challenges are to be served in restorative processes, should they be subjected to similar requirements? Or are the basic requirements that the process be safe and voluntary, and that communication be respectful and honest sufficient? Should the facilitator just trust the process without making any special rules?
The answer to this may differ among restorative justice practitioners. However, there is nothing about restorative justice processes, per se, that exclude participation by people with a specific mental health diagnosis or other characteristic that, in other circumstances, would be seen a limitation on participation. Some practitioners do not find a psychological assessment to be particularly relevant to the process. The main thing is to see each participant as fully human.
Of course, there are people whose mental challenges are so severe that their participation would be impractical. In those cases, the appointment of a Guardian to handle the matter in the challenged person’s stead may be the best choice. And the safety of the participants is always a priority, so those who pose a real danger to themselves or others require a process with added security.
Outside of those cases, various restorative processes may be a superior system for people with mental or emotional difficulties, and for children who experience conflict. It is certainly worth exploring. In Daudi’s case, the answer was to control the cost of dealing with his mental illness by keeping him in isolation twenty-three hours a day. That system is so deeply flawed that making the restorative process more widely available would be a move in the right direction.