Crossing the divide
Jan 06, 2011
It has often been my experience that restorative justice can span the conservative-liberal divide. Concerns for victims and for reducing the costs of imprisonment are often common to both. The concept of offenders facing up to what they have done makes intuitive sense to many. Values such as responsibility, respect and relationship are often shared along the spectrum. What we mean by these values and ideas, however, and what motivates us to embrace them, are crucial issues.
The lessons to be gleaned from the movement against indeterminate sentencing in the U.S. are instructive. Eventually both progressives and conservatives came together to replace indeterminate sentences with determinate sentences motivated by a just deserts philosophy. The resulting lengthened mandatory sentences dramatically increased the prison population. While there was some confluence of policy positions, the underlying values and motivations of the various parties were quite different. The results have been in many ways catastrophic.
Can a similar outcome be avoided with the restorative justice movement? I don’t know the answer, but I do think the likelihood of such unintended consequences might be reduced if restorative justice can encourage a dialogue about our needs, obligations, values and goals.
One way to pursue this discussion might be by sharing our stories with one another. Rather than sharing our positions and beliefs, we might share the stories that have shaped our lives and thinking. Stories can be a powerful way to understand and connect with one another that moves us beyond the assumptions that we often make about the other.