A Guaranteed Effective Justice System One evening in April of 1998 in Fort Collins, Colorado, Jorel Davis, a 15 year old, had gone bowling with a group of friends and stopped at a local ice cream parlor. While enjoying their ice cream in front of the store, gun shots were fired from a car that was driving by. Jorel s injuries to her face resulted in permanent blindness in one of her eyes from the paintball that hit her (The Paintball Case). The 15 year old boy, Justin Barton, who fired the gun, was riding around the town in a Volkswagon Jetta with a group of friends and jokingly fired into the group sitting in front of the ice cream parlor.
He was not aware that his actions would result in something so serious. This case was handled through restorative justice. By the time of the sentencing hearing, Justin had met with Jorel s family many times, and had become very close with them. He had offered Jorel the parts of his eye that would restore her sight, and he had headed a campaign for paintball safety in his community. Most of his actions were self-driven, only as a result of understanding through restorative justice what he had really done.
Justin not only understood the consequences of his actions, but he also understood the feelings of his victim and her family. Justin was also sentenced to 45 days in jail and 2 years of probation (The Paintball Case). Restorative justice is all about fairness, accountability, forgiveness, healing, and closure (Miller). Walter Drew Smith, the statewide Restorative Justice Coordinator for the New Jersey Juvenile Justice Commission, says Authentic restorative justice makes things right. It is more than a set of programs; it is a way of understanding juvenile justice that determines how we practice it. Restorative justice has a history with long traditional and cultural roots.
Cultures have used the concept of restorative justice for hundreds of years Making things right restores a balance to all that are affected by crime (Smith). Restorative justice classifies crime as a violation against humanity, rather than against the legal system (Viano). Restorative justice addresses an offense at several different levels. It involves the offender, victim and community.
It allows the community and the victim (s) to take an active role in the justice process. The community and victim, along with professional state and legal professionals participate in a system that is directed towards offender accountability and the healing of the victim and community (Tutorial). The history of restorative justice dates back to the Babylonians and the Code of Hammurabi in 1700 B. C. It was followed by Roman law, but was replaced by the current judicial system in 1066 (Turpin).
Even in the Southern United States, until the mid-19 th century, the community played an important part in the justice system by strictly adhering to the community s norms and enforcing them. The member of the community who violated the norms was to appear in front of the congregation and confess their sins. Sincere repentance was all that was necessary for forgiveness, reconciliation, and reintegration to the community (Viano). Many people s interests have turned towards restorative justice as a way of dealing with crimes because of frustration with the dominant system. Many feel that the justice system allows the suspect to escape from accountability and punishment through formal court procedures, not to mention the impersonality of a trial conducted in a distant location. Truly, our judicial system no longer deals with issues on a personal level of the community.
The cases are turned over to professionals who are sometimes not part of the community or affected by the crime (Viano). This is not an ideal manner to deal with the issues that affect communities and scar them for a long time to come. Restorative justice actively involves the community in the justice process, therefore being more appealing to those affected. Restorative justice is different from the contemporary system in three main areas.
First, restorative justice views criminal acts differently; instead of lawbreaking, it identifies offenders as harmful to themselves, their victim and the community. Second, instead of handing the case over to the government, restorative justice includes more participants such as the victim and the community. Lastly, victory in a criminal situation is defined differently. Instead of dwelling on the length or severity of a punishment, it focuses on how many harms were repaired or prevented (Tutorial).
There are three different ways restorative justice can be implemented. h Victim-Offender Mediation This involves an interested victim to meet his offender in a safe and structured setting, engaging in a discussion of the crime with the assistance of a trained mediator. The goals of this process include: permitting victims to meet their offenders on a voluntary basis, encouraging the offender to learn about the crime s impact and to take responsibility for the resulting harm, and providing victim and offender the opportunity to develop and plan that addresses the harm (Tutorial). h Family or Community Group Conferencing This process brings together the victim, offender, and family, friends and key supporters of both in deciding how to address the aftermath of the crime. The goals of conferencing include: giving the victim an opportunity to be directly involved in responding to the crime, increasing the offender s awareness of the impact of his or her behavior and providing an opportunity to take responsibility for it, engaging the offender s support system for making amends and shaping the offender s future behavior, and allowing the offender and the victim to connect to key community support (Tutorial). h Peacemaking or Sentencing Circles This is a process designed to develop consensus among community members, victims, victims supporters, offenders, offender supporters, judges, prosecutors, defense counsel, police and court workers on an appropriate sentencing plan that addresses the concerns of all interested parties.
The goals of circles include: promoting healing of all affected parties, giving the offender the opportunity to make amends, giving victims, offenders, family members and communities a voice and shared responsibility in finding constructive resolutions, addressing underlying causes of criminal behavior, and building a sense of community around shared community values (Tutorial). There are three roles that are necessary to be filled in the process of restorative justice: the victim s role, the offender s role, and the community s role. The victim s role is very important in partially restoring themselves and the community (Turpin). It is important that the victim expresses their feelings, their story and actively participate in the progress the offender makes in the direction of making things right (Smith). The victim s role can sometimes be painful in thinking back to their fears and losses, but this is an essential element that must be successfully relayed to the offender by the victim.
The offender must understand the needs and concerns of the one they violated to make restorative justice successful (Turpin). It is important that the victim is endowed with power, respect and is provided with the needed services such as healthcare, mental health services, and financial compensation (Miller). The community s role in the process of restorative justice is also very important. The community plays an important part in aiding the victim in the healing process. Society needs to intervene and help the victim whenever possible and effectively restore the victim in order to dispel the negative effects of the crime (Viano). The community is needed to provide resources and energy for prevention, intervention, and education (Smith).
The community s resources are also needed to develop the skills and competency of the offender, resulting in the offender s understanding of his actions and the effects the action had on the victim and the community (Smith). The offender s role is to accept accountability to their victims and to carry out the responsibilities of restoring the victim and community through repairing the harm caused. If the offender was only punished, it does not give them ample opportunity to accept responsibility for the harm they caused and repair the damage. If the issue is not dealt with on a personal level, the offender may not fully understand the consequences or senseless pain inflicted on the victim and community.
Punishment only is not suitable and does not allow the offender to grow from the experience. Instead, the contemporary justice system gives up on the offender and relates to them as throw-aways. Restorative justice demands that offenders be given a chance to redeem themselves through their actions towards the community and victim harmed (Viano). Each of the previously discussed forms of restorative justice end with an agreement on how the offender will repair the harm caused. There are two ways an offender may go about restoring the victim and community: restitution and community service.
Restitution is the payment by an offender of a sum of money to compensate for the financial losses caused by the crime. It is justified in a restorative perspective as a method of holding offenders accountable for their wrongdoing, and as a method of repairing the victim s injury (Tutorial). Community service is work performed by an offender for the benefit of the community. It is justified in a restorative perspective as a method of addressing the harm experienced by communities when a crime occurs. However, it can be used instead for retributive reasons or as a means of rehabilitating the offender. What distinguishes its use as a restorative response is the attention given to identifying the particular harm suffered by the community as a result of the offender s crime, and the effort to ensure that the offender s community service repairs that particular harm (Tutorial).
For example, an offender who is accused of vandalism will contribute to the community through repairing vandalism throughout the community. In order to initiate restorative justice as an effective tool in our judicial system, it requires the action of almost every aspect in society, but especially the community and many public figures, such as policy makers and elected officials. In some states, there are training sessions for elected officials, policy makers, crime victims, the faith community and the general public. In order for restorative justice to get the attention that it deserves, education is the key (Smith). The religious community often is incorporated in restorative justice because restorative justice deals with the moral aspects of a crime, and less of the legality of the crime.
The list of individuals and organizations that need to be involved is lengthy, including community organizations, universities, criminal justice professionals, educators, social workers, mental health professionals, law enforcement, probation and parole, community corrections, courts, judges and attorneys, and public defenders. The training includes a large range of topics, including principles and core values, current practices, family group conferencing, spiritual foundation, key elements for shaping a restorative justice community, team-building for agency / community partnerships, developing a mission, vision, and strategic plan, and creating a restorative just learning organization (Cavanagh). Many high profile individuals are pursuing a more widespread use of restorative justice. These people include U. S. Attorney General Janet Reno and Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O Conner.
The National Institute of Justice and the National Institute of Corrections have been sponsoring conferences and publications pertaining to the endorsement of restorative justice. The National Institute of Corrections Academy sponsored a nationwide satellite teleconference (Zehr). The support is overwhelming and still growing for this alternative to our current system. In conclusion, restorative justice is an effective way of dealing with offenders, their victims and the community. It holds offenders directly accountable to victims and the community and requires the offender to take direct responsibility. Restorative justice provides the victims with access to the process and restores justice on a personal level.
It also enhances rehabilitation for the offender to deter a repeat offense. Restorative justice is an idea that has been used for thousands of years and needs to be put into effect more often to successfully deal with the senseless harms inflicted on the victim and the community. Works Cited Cavanagh, Tom. The Paintball Case: A Restorative Justice Case Study. 2001. Cavanagh, Tom.
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