This weekend I had the honor to attend the Restorative Justice Conference held at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. Saying I was “touched” does not even begin to describe my experience. I was horrified, saddened and inspired by the stories I heard both from victims of crime and offenders. I was encouraged by the courage, care, and compassion of the key note speakers and panels who spoke. And, I was brought back to reality of the “power of forgiveness”–something I try to remember, but often forget.
The conference opened my eyes to a world where those in positions of power within the justice system–judges, heads of corrections, chiefs of police, probation officers and councilors–actually care to make a difference and are fighting to have something change within our prison system: lower recidivism, decrease the number of people incarcerated, improve prison conditions, and implement and advocate for restorative justice programs. Where victims have met their offenders face-to-face, forgiven them– sometimes continuing a lifetime friendship–and, although the offender may be still locked up for many many years, with this forgiveness both victim and offender are set free.
Restorative justice is a philosophy that requires a different paradigm shift in our thinking. It’s a way of responding to criminal behaviour which emphasises repairing the harm caused by the crime and restoring harmony as much as possible between offender, victim/survivor and society. It mainly involves some form of mediation and conflict resolution. In contrast to “retributive justice”, which focuses on punishing the offender via a two-way relationship (offender and state). Restorative justice: makes the offender responsible for reparation of harm caused by the offence; gives the offender an opportunity to prove his/her positive capacity and qualities; tackles guilt feelings in a positive way; and involves others who have a role in conflict resolution including victims/survivors, parents, extended family members, schools and peers.
“Responsibility with out blame”–a new way of thinking in our criminal system. As one speaker said, restorative justice isn’t fluff, isn’t the easy way out–but very, very hard. Can you imagine facing the mother of the woman you killed and raped, or the man who killed your husband? Bravery, I say–a courage beyond brave, a dive so deep into the heart that actual healing takes place–healing that lasts life times.
We were told restorative justice begins with us. It takes a village to make a town–and we, the people of the community, are that village. I think it’s time to speak up. Go to your local chief of police, city council members, city managers and mayor and ask what they are doing to implement restorative justice into your community–it’s jails and prisons. Police officers are meant to be “peace officers”, yet even within their units there’s a misconception that restorative justice is not “smart on crime” but “soft on crime”. How sad, and how untrue.
It’s time we spoke up. It’s time we drove to our state prisons and county jails to visit those locked up, who don’t get any visits at all. It’s time we took a step.
It’s time the law gets out of the way and let’s the people bring the right order of relationship, which is the definition of justice!