Sunday, July 3, 2016

Where's the Justice?

[Note: this post is a bit longer than most. So you may want to set aside a bit of time to read and ponder it.]

Our current justice system treats crime as an offense against the state rather than against the victim. This allows the offender to distance him or herself from the pain they have caused. Thus their only remorse is that they were caught.

The legal system, therefore, is adversarial - the offender against the state. And the focus is on winning more than on the needs of the victim and the obligations of the offender. It is all about punishment rather than correcting the offender's behavior and restoring the victims peace of mind.

Restorative justice, on the other hand, recognizes crime as "more than an offense against a government. it damages the security and well-being of the victim and the entire community." (1) Crime impairs our ability to experience wholeness, safety, welness, harmony, and peace. It comes from and creates even more separation of people. The distance between "us" and "them" widens and allows for less empathy on either side.

Restorative justice gives the government the role of facilitator of justice. The victim and the offender become direct parties in the justice process. They provide opportunities to meet the victim's needs and promote the offenders accountability. And it serves the community's needs for education and public safety.

Restitution to the victim comes before fines or court fees. The offender may get reduced jail time in order for them to work and pay restitution. Or, in my idea of a better correctional system, the prison may have industries that the inmates can work in with their paychecks going mostly toward restitution to the victims. This, in turn, could reduce the time they spend incarcerated - which then saves the state money.

For some crimes the restitution would include more than mere monetary restitution. For instance, there are a few sex offender programs that facilitate meetings of victims and offenders in a controlled and structured conversation. To participate, the offender must admit to his offense and agree to listen without response to what the victim wants to say. Then the victim has the opportunity to ask the offender questions and the offender is then given the opportunity to answer honestly. The meeting is moderated by a counselor who can stop the interchange at any point. This is often a turning point in the healing of both parties.

Some systems give victims the opportunity to give individual personal consequences for the offence.
For instance, the offender may be required to learn about the victim as a person of value and worth and be required to send a card to the victim or the victim's family each year on the victim's birthday  or anniversary of the offense..

The goal is to give the opportunity for healing for the victim's pain and to give the offender the opportunity to develop empathy, remorse, and healing as well. For unless the offender can acknowledge the pai they caused and can then forgive himself, he can continue to create more victims.

Restorative justice cannot ignore the "collateral damage " to the offender's family. There are millions of children with at least one parent in prison. Often these children are virtually orphaned by the incarceration of their parent, especially when that prisoner was the single custodial parent. too often these children go into foster care and have no contact with their incarcerated parent. In many systems they are not even allowed to have mail contact. No matter the quality of parenting they had received, the abandonment can be devastating and cause many problems in the future.

One program that confronts this is a program where the prisoner parent reads a children's book onto a recording and the book and the recording are sent to their kid. It is a connection that can make a world of difference to let the child know that they have not been abandoned and forgotten.

And then there are the babies born in prison when a pregnant woman is incarcerated. In nearly every instance the baby is taken from its mother and given into foster care. Sometimes this happens even if the mother has family willing to care for the child. This kind of wound to both mother and child can create scars that result in anger and acting out behavior for many years. This does not serve the community nor meet the needs of the prisoner or the child.

To reduce crime and recidivism, big changes need to happen in our criminal justice system. Just throwing every offender into jail won't solve the problems. It drains the state budgets, creates angry people who are eventually released into the communities that are then less safe than before.

No, let's not get soft on crime. But let's look at what might help prevent its recurrence. Learn about restorative justice and ask your government to make changes.

To Do List"

  • Read As We Forgive: Stories of Recosiliation from Rwanda by Catherine Larson
  • Look at the principles of restorative justice at restorative justice.
  • Sign up yur church or service organization for the Prison Fellowship's Angel Tree Program. It insures that every child in your community with an incarcerated parent receives a ift from that parent at Christmas or other gift-giving holiday.
  • Work with your local Department of Corrections to develop or support those being released from prison who may need transportation to social services or job interviews, or who may need mentoring in basic finances. Re-entry is often difficult and the challenges can result in recidivism when the offender can't navagate the system and red tape.
  • Help families with incarcerated members get job training, counseling, transportation, childcare, financial advising, or legal assistance.
  • Don't expect social services to do all these things. They are nder-funded, under-staffed, and overwhelmed. Step up to help bring justice to your community.
(1) Heather Rice-Minus, policy analyst for the Justice Fellowship.

 offender questions. Th offender is then given the opportunity to answer honestly. The meting is mod

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