A Look at Restorative Justice

Justice, 50 Fleet Street, London

Restorative justice is a theory of justice that emphasizes repairing the harm caused or revealed by criminal behaviour. It is best accomplished through cooperative processes that include all stakeholders.  Restorative Justice Online

Rehabilitating and reintegrating wrongdoers into society at large has proven to be both less costly and more effective than traditional incarceration This is a proven fact, that can be easily verified. Our criminal justice system, with it’s incarceration mentality, all too often merely creates hardened criminals out of the  youths that enter its doors.

This is especially damaging to the African American portion of our population. In 2008 Pew Charitable Trusts reported that one out of every 15 black men over the age of 18 is serving time. For comparison only one out of 106 white men are incarcerated. One in every nine African American men between 20 and 34 are incarcerated, a striking contrast to the 1 in 30 of that age group across the rest of the general population.

Rebecca M. Stone of the Central Virginia Restorative Justice recently wrote the following on Bikyamasr:

There are no easy answers to the question of what to do about the disproportionate incarceration rates of young African American men. Nor is there a single solution to address the many layers of structural inequalities that perpetuate cycles of poverty and violence in their lives. We know that incarceration does not solve the problem of crime; this is evident in the fact that around 40 per cent of released inmates are back in prison within three years. For some people, prison can induce change, but the reality is that once within the ‘system’, many people tend to stay.

This makes it imperative that we find more ways to help kids re-integrate into society rather than simply stashing them out of sight behind bars. Once they enter jail or prison facilities their chances of recidivism go through the roof. Far better to help salvage these lives by helping them avoid such circumstances. Restorative justice is one way of attempting to do so.

In her writing Stone explains that restorative justice is more concerned with people and relationships than with simple legalities. Rather than looking at what law has been broken and the mandated penalty, a restorative justice approach looks more at what harm has been done, how it can be rectified, and who is responsible for fixing it.

Offenders are often brought together with their victims in order to apologize and collaboratively develop a plan for fixing the damage done by the crime. Offenders write apology letters to those they have wronged, talk about their actions, and actively participate in figuring out how to prevent it from happening again. Stone reports that offenders find the process much more demanding than the usual justice system because they are forced to see the results of their actions.

She also reports her own first hand experience with the effects of this approach:

 Restorative justice works. Last year the Albemarle County programme I am involved in in Virginia had an 11 per cent recidivism rate for young offenders. In comparison, there was a 23 per cent recidivism rate among young offenders in the same area who did not engage in a restorative justice process.

I’d say cutting recidivism in half is pretty fair evidence, wouldn’t you?

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