More on Restorative Justice

Today a girlfriend said, people are never going to operate from a place of love 100% of the time. I agree. But societally and individually, we could strive for it more often, yes? We can choose compassion over fear and closure. We can choose restoration and transformation over revenge.

If there’s a reaction to every action, what happens when every choice is a punitive, vengeful one? How can we break the chain of spite? I think about this quite a bit, but it’s pretty theoretical. What does it look like to make such choices? This is where the idea of restorative justice comes into play.

“Restorative justice recognizes that crime hurts everyone – victims, offenders and community. It creates an obligation to make things right.”

For many, the righting of things involves a violent response – be it in word, thought or deed. Imagining more ways of righting things becomes the work of restoration.

Restorative justice does not privilege one voice (survivors) at the expense of the others (community members, offenders). It encourages a union or exchange of voices, and action steps that encourage healing.

“Three hallmarks of restorative justice are encounters between victims and offenders, the obligation to repair harm, and the expectation that transformation may take place.”

All parts are critical, and are well-suited as a way of building the caring community required to make decarceration and excarceration viable options. It’s a great example of praxis: engaged theory and practice. It’s not just a way of thinking about things, but also a way of doing things.

Importantly for me, it’s a theory grounded in the transformative potential of people and circumstances. It assumes that people have agency. People can make choices that result in hurt, but that those same people have the capacity to make choices that move toward healing. Similarly, survivors may have been wounded by offenders, but survivors have the opportunity to move toward wholeness. In both cases, people are viewed as fully human, endowed with the ability to grow and evolve.

This sort of primary belief – in the ability of people to change – seems absent from criminal justice discourse. The focus is on punishment: round them up! Get those {insert derogatory word} off the streets. But where is the healing in that? For the survivors? For the offenders? For the community?

It bears repeating: we have to start from a place of love. Believing that all people are indeed fully human is a radical act. But it’s an act grounded in love.

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10 thoughts on “More on Restorative Justice

  1. i’m still learning about it (this post is the extent of my knowledge thus far), but all general cases have exceptions. it’s a question you might research on their website, as i’m sure this organization has had to deal with that. (www.restorativejustice.org). it may be something i’ll address later on this blog, so thanks for the nudge.

    on the flip side, most people don’t want to be harmed or damaged. and most people who inflict damage are damaged themselves due to some previous harm. that’s why it’s more powerful, ultimately, to peel back the layers and get to the root of deviance, rather than to simply moving to punish it. we’re already seeing the results of *that.*

    it’s worth spreading alternative ideas, despite the fact none can be implemented perfectly. we can all imagine the blocks and the problems and the things that won’t work. i write to encourage us to imagine the things that could. even on small scales.

    1. Thanks for the link. I do appreciate you writing on this because it is something I’ve been torn about. I used to work as an advocate for survivors of sexual assault & DV at a hospital. I struggled with criminal justice system then. But when a close friend was assaulted, all my training went out the window. I didn’t care if she wanted to involve police or not but I felt some kind of justice had to be served. With all of us (my friend, the rapist, and I) being on the outskirts of any real community, it’s hard to make that happen. (but I’m going to read the link and see what it says)

  2. Hi Nicole,

    The seminal work on restorative justice is “A Theory of Justice” by John Rawls, and the focus is on the role of community in administering justice, rather than punishment, and how the entire community, not just those affected directly by acts of injustice, are responsible for helping to uphold and restore the social contract.

    I read it as part of my work on teaching the concepts of biblical justice and shalom, and I still refer to it regularly.

    PS, I am so grateful to you for keeping up with your writing, as you continue to remind me that I have something of value to bring to others; something I tend to forget when I am not doing this as part of a professional work experience. xoxo

    1. Excellent! I will add this to my (ever growing) list of books! Also maybe you can guest write a post or I can interview about your work! Would be nice to find out more from people doing the work. xoxo

  3. Pingback: LadyBuddha Speaks

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