Restorative Justice: Making Things Right

After reading the title of this article, one might ask, “What difference can restorative justice make?” In order to even approach such a complex question, we must look at some of the parameters of restorative justice. It would be like having knowledge about using a car and being put in the engineer’s seat of a train. Both are used for transportation, have the ability to carry people or things, and are moved by a mechanical force under human control, but there are multiple components of each that differ.

The word “restorative” brings to mind the repair or replacement of something broken, damaged, or lost. A certain process or technique may be able to replace, repair, or re-create so as to bring restoration. These definitions give a hint about the restorative justice process. The word “justice” will assuredly direct thought processes to the law, courts, prisons, and punishment for crimes committed. These are components of the criminal justice system.

There are three questions asked by both the restorative justice system and the criminal justice system for identification purposes. The current criminal justice system asks the following: “What law was broken?”, “Who did it?”, and “What punishment do they deserve?” Restorative Justice would ask: “Who was harmed by the crime?”, “What are their needs?”, and “Whose obligation is it to meet those needs?” (as stated in The Little Book of Restorative Justice by Howard Zehr). Both sets of questions are similar in nature in that they are looking for justice, but that is where the similarity ends.

The criminal justice system looks only at the person who committed the injustice or crime. Restorative justice looks at the larger picture, at how that injustice/crime affects all parties involved. Surprisingly, this includes you, the individual in a community. The cost of the criminal justice system continues to spiral upward. The average daily cost of housing a prison inmate is $129. Add that up and you can reach over $40,000 per year! The rate of recidivism without restorative justice is 51.8%. All of these figures place the United States as the number one incarcerator of the world.

Restorative Justice can be described generically as:   “Nonviolent responses to injustice, violation and/or violence in which victims and offenders (as well as their communities and other stakeholders) can identify harms, needs and responsibilities so that they can determine  how to make things as right as possible, which can include covenants of accountability, restitution, reparations and even reconciliation.”  This system looks at the larger picture, offers opportunity for all parties affected to find resolution, and has positive impacts on the cost of criminal justice, recidivism, and wholeness in the community. It brings about possibilities for communal courts that would take a major caseload out of the over-burdened criminal justice system. It provides a place for personal and collective community issues of various magnitudes to be addressed in inclusionary ways. Restorative justice can lessen the encumbrance of an overtaxed system, equip the community with tools and resources for finding resolution and wholeness, and bring about healing for the individual.

We have such a place in Detroit! The Corktown Restorative Justice Center is now open to the public on Tuesdays from 10:00 am to 7:00 pm. It is located on the first floor of the Parish House Peace & Justice Center which is next to St. Peter’s Episcopal Church on Trumbull at Michigan Avenue. Go to http://stpetersdetroit.com/ministries/restorative-justice-group/ for more information.

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