The Growing Trend of Restorative Justice
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Restorative Justice is a relatively new concept that has only been written about, discussed, and pondered. Now, however, more people are getting to be actively engaged in the process of “restorative justice.” Unfortunately, the number of these practicing lawyers is still relatively small; however, that number is growing steadily. Hopefully, in the next few years, the numbers will increase dramatically. Unfortunately, the increasing demand for these services has been met by an increased supply of lawyers. This report explores the differences between restorative justice and retribution.
Restorative Justice is the application of current criminal justice practices to solve minor crimes. Most notably, it is not the replacement of punishment, but instead a proactive effort at reducing crime through the reconciliation and rehabilitation of the victim and the perpetrator. Restorative Justice has frequently been used in juvenile delinquency cases. The concept lays stress on rehabilitation rather than retribution. Many times, a criminal will offend again, only to be locked up in an adult prison or juvenile detention facility. When these offenders do get released, they frequently find themselves unable to find work and a place to live, much less a career path.
Decaress Smith is a career criminal who has formally committed over 900 burglaries. A former inmate and reformed criminal he spent over 20 years of his life behind bars. As a result he has become a prime candidate for restorative justice. After personally witnessing the consequences of past decisions, he has come see and understand that anyone can be rehabilitated. This he has learned can happen even to people like himself with a long criminal history. He now spends his time giving back to the community by sharing his experiences as a wayward youth.
He understands that he cannot go back and correct the mistakes of his past. However, he understands that his remaining years will be best served by teaching youth about the dangers of his past choices. He shares in gritty detail the graphic abuse he has suffered behind bars. Many of these experiences have brought him to the brink of death. He has survived being physically attacked, bludgeoned, and even shot. He has even survived being relocated in New York prison to penal institutions as far away as Atlanta, Georgia.
Retributive Justice is the opposite of restorative justice. Where punishment is the ultimate goal, this system focuses on retribution – the taking of someone’s property, possessions, rights, freedoms, etc., in exchange for some kind of “reward” (such as “discipline” or “stop from offense”). While it is not unusual to find individuals who have been exposed to retribution punishments which have been highly publicized, such as the death of a famous celebrity or political dissenter, more frequently, individuals are individuals who were accused of crimes that did not warrant the extraordinary measures the state has taken. For example, many men and women who were charged with murder have been found innocent of the charges, despite being locked up in prison for years without the possibility of early parole.
In contrast, restorative justice and retributive justice are designing to manage repeat offenders, in addition to those who have caused serious injury or even death to another individual. The principal difference between the two is that the intention of both is to behave in ways that will deter further crime. To put it differently, those who get theorative sentencing approach do so because of their past acts, while those who go through the retribution path are now trying to achieve some kind of retribution against the individual who has supposedly caused them harm. An example may be the individual who’s being charged with child molestation who asks for a sentence of probation, treatment, community service, or some form of retribution.
Because of this important distinction, lots of men and women wonder why restorative justice in schools is necessary at all. Some folks point out that there’s nothing inherent in restorative justice in schools; instead, it is an attempt to generate something more meaningful out of a circumstance. Sadly, this is true only to a certain extent. Consider, by way of instance, the narrative of 16-year older Tamir Rice. According to the criminal court examiner, Tamir’s case had everything to do with a pattern of violence that had pervaded his life and that’d even gotten worse since he had left home to go to college.
While it may look like a small thing to say that a child who was killed for the remainder of his life by a person who should have served time for his crime should get some form of retribution, restorative justice does represent a substantial advancement in our criminal justice system. The death of Tamir should have led to a direct retributive justice program nonetheless, no such program was implemented. Instead, prosecutors opted for a “life sentence” as their punishment for Tamir.
This, of course, is problematic on many levels. Although we should always try to find ways to send the wrongdoer to jail, the simple fact remains that the only way that we’ve accomplished that goal is to punish the wrongdoer solely for the crime he or she committed, without taking into account whether the victim was actually a victim of a crime or not. If a jury had been presented with the evidence that revealed that Tamir’s life had been dramatically shortened by the activities of the person who actually committed the crime, it’s entirely possible that they might have voted to convict. However, because the jury failed to see the totality of the evidence, they failed to impose the appropriate sentence. Because restorative justice seeks to ensure that the suffering endured by the victim and the family members of the victim are treated, it provides the only measurable justice that we’ve been able to achieve up to now.
Restorative Justice is just one more avenue that crime victims and their families can pursue in order to seek retribution for the suffering they have experienced. The unfortunate truth is that if an individual is punished without retribution, the act itself becomes the punishment. Therefore, retribution, restorative justice, and other types of justice might just offer the additional impetus that the victim and family members need in order to pursue these avenues to seek justice in the face of criminal activity. Unfortunately, some jurisdictions have outlawed the idea of retribution as it pertains to crimes against children or vulnerable adult victims. But even in those jurisdictions, victims still have a number of legal routes to pursue this sort of justice.