- Showing 3 posts filed under: Politics [–] published between Apr 01, 2010 and Apr 30, 2010 [Show all]
The time for alternatives
Restorative programs were first used for minor juvenile offenders with short records. The programs expanded to include adults and violent offenders. For low level offenders, restorative agreements can serve as the sentence. For violent crimes, like homicide, restorative agreements are simply used to heal victims and offenders.
There are three major types of restorative programs. First, victim-offender mediation (VOM). VOM sessions allow the victim and offender to reach an agreement on how to make things right between them. Cases are referred for VOM by courts, police, or even members of the community. Second, restorative conferencing. The victim and offender discuss the crime and how it impacted each of them. Re-integrative shaming is a large part of the conference. The process is meant to respectfully show disapproval for the offender’s actions and to help him or her reintegrate into society. Third, restorative circles. Circles are open to offenders, victims, their family and friends, and members of the community. Each participant has the chance to speak.
Restorative justice offers a better way to cope with crime
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.
Next year in Virginia?
The Virginia Legislature did not pass the restorative justice bill, SB 679, during this legislative session. As I reported on Indisputably in January, the bill would have given formal structure to restorative justice programs in Virginia and would have specifically allowed a judge to order an offender into a restorative justice program.
The story of why this bill was introduced, and why it failed to pass this year, is an interesting one. The Senator who proposed the legislation, Emmet Hanger, had a personal experience with crime which seems to have left him both frustrated with the traditional criminal justice system and a believer in taking a more restorative approach. Someone broke into Senator Hanger’s car and stole some items. Senator Hanger was not pleased when the traditional justice system did not require the offender to return the items (particularly a leather jacket) or clean up the car.