Restorative justice: The new way forward
Feb 07, 2012
from Lisa Rea's article in Baylor University's Christian Refelction issue on Prison:
.... Some might argue that our prison system was never meant to positively affect victims and communities. I will not analyze the original purpose of prisons in society, but we know that prisons have become something far different than what they were intended to be. Most societies have incarcerated individuals who were deemed to be a violent threat to others, but the United States prison system today has grown immensely beyond this rationale. As a result, the American state and federal prison population has expanded dramatically.
During a twenty-year period when the general population grew less than 22%, the prison population more than doubled, from less than 700,000 in 1989 to over 1,500,000 in 2009. A total of 7,225,800 adults, or 3.1% of the U. S. adult population, were under correctional supervision—either on probation or parole, or in jail or prison—in 2009. With 743 per 100,000 of its citizens in detention, the U. S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world.
The financial costs, not to mention the social costs to communities, are staggering. In California, for instance, it costs about $47,000 to incarcerate one prison inmate for one year.
Restorative justice principles invite us to reconsider the nature of crime: it is not an offense of a criminal against the state, but an offense committed by one individual (the offender) against other individuals (the victims).
For this reason, the justice system should hold offenders accountable (as directly as possible) for restoring (as much as possible) the victims or their families. Restorative justice acknowledges that crime breaks the peace within communities. Offenders, therefore, must make things right with the community as well, if possible.
The American justice system, like most justice systems worldwide, does not work well for victims, offenders, and communities, which is why many people are seeking to embrace something new. Restorative justice provides the vision for change precisely because it brings to light the human impact of our failed policies.
But it does not stop there. It proposes ways to build a bridge between the victim and the offender. Some might wonder whether victims would want contact of any kind with their offenders. However, crime victims increasingly are seeking that contact, largely because the current system does not adequately acknowledge the impact violent crime has on victims, or hold offenders accountable to their victims in meaningful ways.