Restorative justice offers a better way to cope with crime
Apr 14, 2010
If asked to define “justice,” most Americans use words such as fairness, similar or equal treatment, absence of discrimination, enlightenment, due process and equal opportunity. Yet, when asked what is meant when we hear that someone has been “brought to justice,” Americans inevitably think first of punishment — often severe punishment — that must serve as retribution for wrongdoing. We know that justice is a larger concept than punishment, yet we are mostly aware of a very limited set of choices about what justice means in response to crime.
It has been said that Americans are addicted to punishment. But it is more accurate to say that this addiction is characteristic of policymakers who run on “get tough on crime” platforms that seem to thrive on retribution. Crime makes us angry and afraid, but a number of surveys have shown that most of us want accountability for crimes rather than simply retribution. Of greatest concern is the fact that retributive justice is inherently offender-focused — leaving crime victims on the sidelines of the justice process.
....Although more commonly employed in some eras and cultures (forms of restorative justice never disappeared in many indigenous societies), reparation and informal settlement processes, as well as formal and informal restitution and other reparative sanctions (e.g., community service) have nonetheless persisted at some level alongside retributive punishment throughout Western history.
In the past two decades, restorative justice has become a growing international movement. Indeed, restorative justice was the basis for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa and even became part of post-genocide reconciliation in Rwanda. Restorative practices have also become popular in schools and universities as an alternative to suspension and expulsion.
While restorative justice led to new policy in a number of states and prompted statutory change in juvenile justice codes in 35, U.S. policymakers have clearly lagged the rest of the world, and restorative justice in many states (including Florida) is used only sporadically. The good news is that many citizens who learn about restorative justice support it, as well as many criminal justice decision makers — including prosecutors, judges, public defenders, police officers and victims’ advocates.