Let's "Restore" our Justice System

Let’s “Restore” our Justice System by Chip Coldren

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A youth in a residential community breaks in a neighbor’s house and steals some money. The break-in has generated some fear for the neighbors and in the community. If this youth goes through the traditional justice system, he would probably be accused or adjudicated as a delinquent. He will probably go into an adversarial process, with those representing him advising him to minimize his responsibility.

But what would a Restorative Justice system do with this perpetrator? There would be a meeting with the victim and a community stakeholder, somebody from a neighborhood watch or from the police department. A discussion would take place. The offender would talk about what he did and why. The victim would talk about his or her experience – fear, mistrust, anger, concern for property – all that stuff would come up. Following a dialogue, if the victim and the stakeholder are satisfied they have gotten their points across, they would all determine what the offender would have to do to repair the harm. Sometimes, that can be simple – giving the money back, repairing a broken window. And the offender has to apologize. Sometimes, that can be the hardest part. But only when that response has taken place, and when the offender has repaired the harm, is the offender welcomed back into the community. In this sense, Restorative Justice involves reintegrative shaming.